FBI Director James Comey delivered a public statement this morning on the controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton’s email server, and in the process, he disappointed every Clinton critic who’s been eagerly anticipating an indictment. From the transcript:
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. Prosecutors necessarily weigh a number of factors before bringing charges. There are obvious considerations, like the strength of the evidence, especially regarding intent. Responsible decisions also consider the context of a person’s actions, and how similar situations have been handled in the past.“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”
This is not the official end of the matter – in theory, Justice Department prosecutors could decide to ignore the FBI’s findings – but there’s no reason to believe that will happen. “[A]lthough the Department of Justice makes final decisions on matters like this,” Comey added, “we are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate in this case.”
To be sure, the FBI director’s statement was not altogether flattering. Comey spoke at some length, criticizing Clinton’s “extremely careless” email server protocols. He went on to say, however, that Clinton never intended to circumvent any laws and the FBI “found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”
So what are we left with? Exactly what we’ve been expecting all along: a story in which the former Secretary of State should have adopted more responsible email protocols, but the “scandal” falls short of criminal wrongdoing.
If this pattern seems familiar, there’s a good reason: a variety of “controversies” surrounding Hillary Clinton tend to follow the same trajectory. Dubious and largely underwhelming allegations are taken very seriously by Republicans and much of the media, which leads to a lengthy investigation, which amounts to very little.
We saw this play out last week with the Benghazi probe – the GOP’s special investigatory committee desperately searched for Clinton-related wrongdoing but found nothing – and we’re seeing it again now.
Soon after Comey’s statement, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee joined the fray to complain. “The system is rigged,” Donald Trump said via Twitter. “General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair!”
First, former Gen. David Petraeus got “in trouble” because he deliberately shared classified information with his mistress. To see this as comparable to Clinton’s actions is obviously foolish.
Second, there’s no real upside to going after Comey. Let’s not forget that President Obama chose a Republican to serve as FBI director – Comey was a top official in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department – and there’s literally nothing to suggest the bureau’s investigation was “rigged” for partisan or political reasons.
This morning’s announcement almost certainly won’t end the partisan food fight. Indeed, the Benghazi conspiracy theories were resolved years ago, but plenty of Republicans still believe them. Forevermore, many on the right will insist that Clinton got away with some serious crime.
But today’s outcome is the same outcome most of us have been expecting all along.
Postscript: This is a bit of a tangent, but there’s a case to be made that Comey’s statement wasn’t altogether fair to Clinton. As a rule, when federal law enforcement announces the end of an investigation, and a recommendation not to file charges, the director of the FBI doesn’t take the extra step of publicly chastising the accused.