For Donald Trump and Republicans, the answer was already obvious: the president and his party have insisted for years that the federal law enforcement was biased in favor of Hillary Clinton, who received preferential treatment for partisan reasons, and who would’ve been “locked up” if the investigation into her email server been handled in a neutral way.
Did the Justice Department and F.B.I. use their power, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, to help Clinton’s campaign and hurt his?
In the lead-up to the report, Trump’s allies agreed that this was paramount. “The central question in my opinion,” David Bossie, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, wrote this week on the Fox News website, “is did Hillary Clinton and her cronies get preferential treatment in her email server investigation for political reasons?”
And the report’s answer is clear: No. Federal investigators and prosecutors did not give preferential treatment to Clinton. They pursued the case on the merits. They were guided by, as the inspector general’s report puts it, “the prosecutor’s assessment of the facts, the law, and past Department practice.”
There was no pro-Clinton bias. The Republican president’s allegations were the opposite of the truth. As Rachel explained on the show last night, the Justice Department’s exhaustive review explained that the reason Clinton wasn’t charged was because there simply wasn’t reason to charge her. The investigation into her emails was handled properly.
The inspector general did find serious fault in former FBI Director James Comey’s conduct – a point Trump seemed excited about this morning – but what the White House and its allies need to understand is that Comey was criticized in the new report for being unfair to Clinton.
In other words, the former FBI director, far from helping the Democratic ticket, went too far in damaging Clinton’s candidacy.
Trump seems to see this as some kind of vindication, but that’s absurd given the circumstances: had it not been for Comey’s “extraordinary” mistakes, Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.
As for the rationale behind Comey’s missteps, the IG’s report didn’t accuse the former FBI chief of being a pro-Trump partisan, but rather, it concluded that Comey took too seriously the right’s bullying campaign against the bureau: he was aware of the baseless Republican claims that federal law enforcement was going easy on Clinton, and he was so eager to prove those claims wrong that he ended up breaking the rules by going too hard against Clinton.
Or put another way, Comey didn’t care if he was seen as hurting the Democratic nominee, but because of the GOP pressure campaign, he cared deeply about being seen as possibly helping the Democratic nominee.
Republicans worked the refs – and it worked. Indeed, it’s partly why American voters were made aware of the investigation into Clinton’s email protocols, but the electorate had no idea that the Justice Department was also investigating the Trump campaign over its connections to its Russian benefactors.
For the White House and its allies to see these findings as beneficial in any way is a rejection of reality that borders on delusion. The inspector general’s report is, if anything, an affirmation of what Clinton and her team have argued for quite a while: her missteps were minor and inconsequential; there was no reason to charge her with anything; and she was treated unfairly by federal law enforcement officials who seemed indifferent to the impact their actions were having on the campaign.
Trump whined incessantly for months about the system being “rigged” against him, when in reality, it was Clinton who was unjustly damaged.
Postscript: What about the Peter Strzok text about “stopping” Trump from winning? Trump’s excitement notwithstanding, the Justice Department’s inspector general found that Strzok did not undermine the Republican’s campaign and made no effort to try to undermine Trump.
If the right is looking for something that benefits a narrative favorable to the president, conservatives will have to look elsewhere.