This is my attempt to be the voice of reason amidst the hue and cry surrounding yesterday’s fiasco.
The Facts, Ma’am, Only The Facts
Anthony Weiner, former member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City, has been involved in three sexual scandals related to sexting, or sending explicit sexual material by cell phone. There is currently an FBI investigation into illicit text messages from Mr. Weiner to a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina. Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is an aide to Hillary Clinton and has been so for many years. In the course of the Wiener investigation, the FBI confiscated electronic devices owned by Weiner and his wife. On one laptop, there were some emails that may or may not have pertained to Ms. Abedin’s job as Ms. Clinton’s aide.
The Infamous Letter Read ‘Round The World
On Friday, 28 October, FBI Director James Comey issued the following letter to specific members of Congress:
Dear Messrs Chairmen:
In previous congressional testimony, l referred to the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton’s personal email server. Due to recent developments, I am writing to supplement my previous testimony.
In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation. I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.
Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.
James B. Comey, Director
Also on Friday, Comey sent the following letter to all FBI employees:
This morning I sent a letter to Congress in connection with the Secretary Clinton email investigation. Yesterday, the investigative team briefed me on their recommendation with respect to seeking access to emails that have recently been found in an unrelated case. Because those emails appear to be pertinent to our investigation, I agreed that we should take appropriate steps to obtain and review them.
Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. 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.
Almost immediately, Comey’s letter to certain members of Congress was reported by nearly every media outlet far and wide. The following is a list of the addressees of the letter:
Richard M. Burr, Chairman Select Committee on intelligence
Charles E. Grassley, Chairman Committee on the Judiciary
Richard Shelby, Chairman Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Ron Johnson, Chairman Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Devin Nunes, Chairman Pennanent Select Committee on Intelligence
Robert Goodlatte, Chairman Committee on the Judiciary
John Culberson, Chairman Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
Jason Chaffetz, Chairman Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
I am sure that members of Congress receive hundreds of emails and letters every day that they do not release to the press, yet for some reason, Jason Chaffetz felt it was necessary to share Comey’s letter. Why did Chaffetz release this letter to the press? We all know why. Why, given that, by Comey’s own admission such a letter is not standard operating procedure, was the letter written in the first place?
An Attempt To Sway The Election, Or CYA?
Why did Mr. Comey, who admits that it is not standard operating procedure, feel obligated to notify Congress about the discovery of emails in an entirely unrelated case before the emails had even been summarily reviewed by the FBI? There are two schools of thought here.
The first is that Comey, a Republican, used a fairly innocuous bit of information to attempt to create the illusion of a scandal where there is none, and that his motive was to swing voters away from Clinton.
The second is that Comey, who came under a great deal of criticism from Republicans when he closed the case against Clinton in July, saying there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, issued the letter as a CYA (cover-your-ass) maneuver, just in case something did result in a re-opening of the Clinton case.
Since Comey appears to have been, to this point, a fairly straight-shooter, I lean toward the second explanation. One could almost feel sorry for Comey in light of the harsh criticism he took earlier this year from Republicans, and now he is taking even more from Democrats. However, one could also argue that Mr. Comey acted irresponsibly, as he certainly knew that: a) that his letter would be made public within a matter of hours; and b) the effect of his letter, just 11 days before the election, would have far-reaching consequences on the political scene and for the future of the nation.
It could be argued that Comey did nothing wrong – nothing more than send a brief letter to a handful of Congressmen – and that the actual wrongdoing was on the part of Jason Chaffetz, who unconscionably released the letter to the media. However, there does seem to be a ‘double standard’ here, as the FBI has chosen not to comment on or even confirm the existence of other campaign-related investigations, such as any connection between Russian hacking into the email accounts of powerful U.S. political figures and the Trump campaign, but has rightly refused to publicly confirm whether or not an investigation is underway.
Debunking The Myths
Predictably, once the story broke, initial reactions were immediate and mixed, depending which side of the aisle you inhabit. Democrats experienced a heart-dropping moment, while Republicans reacted almost giddily with glee. Within hours, the polls began reacting by narrowing the gap between the two candidates, and the stock market took a plunge. But both sides, I believe, over-reacted based on the brevity and vagueness of the letter issued by Mr. Comey. The letter neither stated nor indicated that the investigation into Ms. Clinton’s emails would be re-opened, but some media outlets and most Republicans made that huge leap from point A to point Z.
The new emails at issue here were not from Clinton’s server, they did not appear to have been deliberately withheld from the FBI, and the separate investigation that turned up the emails was not related to the Clintons themselves. Furthermore, the FBI doesn’t even know if the new emails contain any meaningful information — the bureau hasn’t even gotten access to them yet.
Responses and Results
Some notable responses to the untimely release of the letter:
- Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein: “The FBI has a history of extreme caution near election day so as not to influence the results. Today’s break from that tradition is appalling.”
- Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, one of the direct recipients of the letter: “The letter from Director Comey was unsolicited and, quite honestly, surprising. But it’s left a lot more questions than answers for both the FBI and Secretary Clinton. Congress and the public deserve more context to properly assess what evidence the FBI has discovered and what it plans to do with it.”
- Republican Senator John Cornyn: “Why is FBI doing this just 11 days before the election?”
- Entertainer Bill Maher: “I think it is rather appropriate that this election is so close to Halloween, because what happens in every scary movie? You think you killed the monster—you killed him ten times—and then a tiny, orange hand comes out of the grave. Believe me: for Hillary, tonight was Nightmare on Email Street.”
Interestingly, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, called to suspend classified briefings for Ms. Clinton. Does he seriously not realize that she knows more than he will ever know about classified matters? Ms. Clinton took the bull by the horns and held a press conference on Friday evening. She criticized FBI Director James Comey on Friday for failing to disclose additional information about the nature of a new inquiry into her private email server, and said, “The American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately.” Clinton noted that Americans across the country are already voting and that it is “imperative” that Comey explain the issue “without delay.”
“We don’t know all the facts,” Clinton said. “Even Director Comey noted that this information may or may not be significant, so let’s get it out.”
Trump, on the other hand, put on his usual dog-and-pony show, claiming, “The FBI would not have reopened this case at this time unless it was a most egregious criminal offense. Justice will prevail. They are reopening the case into her criminal and illegal conduct that threatens the security of the United States of America. Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.”
At The End Of The Day
If Comey’s or Chaffetz’ intention was to undermine the Clinton campaign and give a boost to Donald Trump, it may well backfire, as anger is building among those of both parties regarding the inappropriateness of this tactic. In the long run, Ms. Clinton may well be seen as the victim of more of the scandal-mongering that has plagued this election.
Though the polls have narrowed, I am still confident of a Clinton win on November 8th, as people put the Comey letter in perspective and realize it is truly a non-issue. The reality is that most sensible voters are voting based on a candidate’s stand on issues, not gossip. We have heard so much scandal rhetoric this year that we should be fairly inured to it by now, and just need to give the dust time to settle. What the end result of the review of the emails found on Weiner’s computer will be is anybody’s guess, but I suspect it will be anticlimactic, to say the least. Personally, I call for disciplinary action, not only for Comey, but also for Jason Chaffetz for recklessly attempting to interfere with the results of a presidential election. Meanwhile, the media could do the nation a great service by relegating this entire issue to the historical archives and moving on with actual news. Will they? Well, I think we can all guess the answer to that. Sadly, “if it bleeds, it leads” is still the motto of the free press.