And yet an utterly irresponsible media, thirsty for a scoop and ignoring the consequences of its scope, has egged on a public with a scandal lust, aiding and abetting Republicans in turning an email mistake into a colossal crime.
Far from the faux election rigging that Donald Trump has been harping on for weeks, this election isn’t in danger of being stolen by Hillary Clinton, but in danger of being stolen from her.
On Friday, the F.B.I. director, James Comey, took the outrageous and unprecedented step of sending a letter to Congress announcing that the bureau has “learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent” to the inquiry into Clinton’s personal email server that apparently had been uncovered as part of an Anthony Weiner sexting investigation.
Not only was this move reckless, weaponizing the reputation of the bureau once again as a partisan political entity, but also Comey was apparently ignoring the strong discouragement of the Justice Department.
But, according to a report by The New York Times: “Senior Justice Department officials did not move to stop him from sending the letter, officials said, but they did everything short of it, pointing to policies against talking about current criminal investigations or being seen as meddling in elections.”
Comey, for his part, appeared fully cognizant of how disruptive to the election his note would be, and yet inexplicably, he sent it anyway.
In a letter to F.B.I. employees, he pointed out that “of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations,” but feebly tried to explain that he was doing so this time, at this crucial moment, so as not to mislead the American people and to “supplement the record.”
Then he wrote: “At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression. In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.”
“Risk of being misunderstood” is one of the most appalling understatements of this presidential cycle. Comey clearly knew that his ill-advised actions could implicate Clinton by insinuation and he proceeded anyway, presenting his vague letter as an act of valor when in fact it was an act of vacuity. The irony here is that the man who blasted Clinton for being “extremely careless” for her use of a private email server was himself “extremely careless” for inserting himself and his agency into an election with that letter.
And let’s be clear: Although there have been contradictory news reports on how many new emails there are in question and whether or not any of them were sent to or from Clinton, Comey himself did not and has not clarified any of these questions.
How are voters supposed to fold this into their decision-making with a little more than a week left before Election Day? Is this a big deal about nothing or another phase in something substantial?
Republicans may be gleeful, but Democrats have every right to be livid. This is just the latest lifeline being thrown to a Republican candidate drowning in his own ineptitude.
There is no way to know what electoral impact this will have, but I would venture that it is safe to say that it will have some. Headlines and sound bites are as deep as some voters go. The impropriety of Comey’s action requires a level of detailed assessment that is simply beyond the inclination of what I roughly call the Fickle Five Percent, the late-deciding swing voters who move between candidates based on the week’s revelations.
Add to that the fact that Trump has been encouraging his supporters to watch the polls in “certain areas,” a move that many worry could amount to voter intimidation, particularly in minority neighborhoods.
Furthermore, a senior Trump campaign official last week told Bloomberg Business Week, “We have three major voter suppression operations underway.” As the publication pointed out: “They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African-Americans.”
Trump wants to win through sleight of hand and Comey most likely just increased that possibility, however slightly. Voters of all ideologies who value the integrity of our electoral process must send the strongest possible message that this is not how we want our democracy to operate. They must vote with conviction in absolute opposition.