As one analyst put it, Hillary was not indicted but she was convicted in the court of public opinion. Of extreme carelessness in handling emails. Of setting up a private, nonsecure server in her home and using it to transmit sensitive information that dealt with subjects that should have been better protected. The use of drones in Pakistan is one example. She should have known better.
But Republican-appointed FBI Director James Comey concluded that because neither Hillary Clinton nor her colleagues intended to break any laws and because “no reasonable prosecutor” would indict, the FBI would not pursue an indictment. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (she of the inappropriate tarmac meeting with presumptive first spouse Bill Clinton) unsurprisingly accepted the conclusion.
While rejecting criminal charges, Comey gave Clinton and her insiders a 15-minute lacerating rebuke, censuring the State Department security culture, or lack thereof. There was every indication that the behavior would have faced serious administrative sanctions in a different situation. In fact, one wonders if such sanctions might be imposed on other Clinton State Department officials, including loss of security clearance, if they were to be made part of her administration.
If we thought that failure to be indicted would make this issue go away, not so fast. Donald Trump has enough sound bites from Director Comey to fill the airwaves from now to November. It has already started. The problem for Hillary is that her candidacy is rooted in her vast experience, competence, and ability to manage relationships here and abroad. The Comey analysis undercuts that brand. And decades of attacks, charges of scandals, investigations and her carefully parsed responses to them have fed the sense that she is not trustworthy and that both Clintons behave outside the rules whenever it suits them.
What makes matters worse is that House Republicans are primed for a perjury probe. Today’s grilling of Comey makes clear that the House will formally ask the FBI to investigate whether Clinton lied during her Benghazi testimony about her handling of emails.
As Globe columnist Scot Lehigh commented on Greater Boston, the emails “are not a huge disqualifying issue.” To which I would add, especially when you consider the alternative. My hope is she will take this hit as an opportunity to reset her campaign for the general election, being more open with the press for starters. The fact that this is a truth-challenged election doesn’t mean that voters don’t care. While it will be difficult to put the email mess behind, there are larger stakes in this election. She could win without hitting the reset button, but victory will mean a lot more if she stands for something other than not being as bad as the other candidate.
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