I am not much interested in conspiracy theories and/or pulp fiction speculations about what purportedly goes on behind the scenes of controversies. However, I cannot help but suggest that the “October surprise” — or more accurately the eleventh-hour gift from FBI Director James Comey to Donald Trump — is, more than anything else, the result of issues within the Bureau itself that have not been discussed in the popular media.
I think it quite probable that when Comey announced in July that the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of her own email system rather than the government’s to conduct State Department business produced no probable or reasonable cause to recommend that she be charged with any crime, it set off a wave of internal dissent within the Bureau, particularly among Comey’s key staff members. It seems safe to assume that highly ranked FBI management leans heavily toward support of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, and that politically, after the decision to clear Clinton of legal wrongdoing, Comey was seen by colleagues as a traitor, maybe even to his country but at least to the Bureau culture of macho if not misogynistic crusaders against whomever they define as America’s enemies. (J. Edgar Hoover must be spinning in his cross-dressed grave.) And being immediately hauled in front of Congress to be lashed by outraged Republican members certainly couldn’t have reduced Comey’s sense of being out on a cracking limb.
The irony is that Comey had no responsibility to make that July announcement at all. It is not within the purview of the FBI to make prosecutorial decisions. They are essentially a police force whose job is to gather evidence. Whether or not to charge someone with a crime is the mandate of the Department of Justice, not the FBI. Unfortunately for Comey, the head of DOJ, Attorney General Loretta Lynch got caught in a tete-a-tete with former President Bill Clinton just before the results of the investigation were to be announced, and to maintain the fiction that they did not discuss the case, she announced that she would essentially leave the decision of whether or not to prosecute to the FBI.
This is when Comey, in the lingo of the astronauts, “screwed the pooch.” He should have insisted that his job was to gather and present the evidence and Lynch’s job was to review it and make the decision whether to level any charges. The fact that she had compromised herself by meeting with Bill Clinton was her problem, not his. However, to be fair, the fact that she is Comey’s boss was indeed his problem, and she was no doubt leaving him no doubt that she expected him to bail her out. But after all his years of government experience, he should have known that by assuming the responsibility for the prosecutorial decision, he was setting himself up (or more accurately, she was setting him up) for a fall.
So off to his pooch he went, announcing an end to the investigation and clearing Clinton of any legal consequences. The result was a chorus of Republicans in Congress howling for his head, Trump braying that the FBI is part of a Washington conspiracy to rig the election, and Comey’s own staff in rebellion over their belief that he caved to the Clintons.
But now in October came what Comey saw as a chance for redemption in the form of emails on the computer of one of Clinton’s closest and most trusted advisors. (Ironically, the closer and more trusted they are, the more trouble they seem to cause her, e.g., not just Huma Abedin but also Cheryl Mills, not to mention Bill.) So for a second time, the FBI Director breeched protocol, this time by announcing an investigation that directly affects a nominee for president during the final days of the campaign. Comey has claimed that he was duty bound to do so since he had previously told Congress that the investigation of Clinton’s emails was finished and that he would advise of any new developments. This is hardly a credible explanation as to why it was necessary to break the FBI/DOJ established policy against announcements that can impact a political campaign during its final phase, which surely would have been an arguable reason not to make any announcement at this time. (As everyone in Washington knows, informing Congress of anything is tantamount to issuing a press release.) Worse yet, he is not prepared to offer any specific indication as to why he thinks the emails are relevant or that Clinton is personally involved since it will be many weeks before the emails will be assessed. All of which has given Trump license (not that he has ever needed it) to unleash a whole new litany of lies.
What Comey thought he would accomplish was to show those within the FBI who turned against him for not recommending that Clinton be prosecuted that he was ready to go after her again and in a way that would certainly impair her campaign. And that he was willing to defy his boss, Lynch, who warned him of the obvious implications of his actions.
Yet another irony is that if Comey had stood up to her in July, he would not now find himself pilloried yet again, this time by Clinton, her supporters and much of the legal community of prosecutors. (His pooch must be getting a little tired by now.)
Irony number whatever (I’m losing track) is that the real culprit in this mess is Bill Clinton. If he had not trotted across the tarmac to Lynch’s plane to obviously make the case for his wife that there should be no prosecution for her actions, the Attorney General would not have been able to duck the decision for which she was in fact responsible. And when she would predictably have declined to prosecute, she would have taken the political heat, while Comey could have shrugged it off to his FBI colleagues as just more politics as usual. Trump and the Republicans in Congress would still have screamed bloody murder but, as we know, his eventual unmasking as a sexual predator buried the story.
Speaking of which, the final irony is that the wife of another sexual deviant — Anthony Weiner — brought this down on both Comey’s and Clinton’s heads.
At the end of the day, it is a pity that Comey’s bi-partisan reputation for great dedication and integrity in his work is in shambles. He is apparently a decent person who is not corrupt but who has been corrupted. And if Clinton actually loses the election, he will go down in history as a pariah.
Unless, of course, the emails actually produce real evidence of Clinton having committed an indictable crime. In that case, a President Trump will happily appoint his promised special prosecutor to convict her. Or the second President Clinton will also be the second President Clinton to be impeached. Either way, America will be circling the drain of world opinion again while for Comey, all would be forgiven and Poochy will be able to get a good night’s sleep.