She might have been better off with a criminal indictment.
Hillary Clinton got her wish that the FBI would not recommend criminal charges for her homebrew email setup. Now she will suffer the consequences.
On Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey announced that 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.” He cited “a number of factors” in reaching this decision, beyond the possibly criminal acts.
So Hillary skates? Not hardly. In fact, this could be the worst outcome possible.
Had a recommendation for indictment come down, it would not have slowed Hillary’s march to the nomination. Democrats have demonstrated they will support her no matter what. And had actual charges been filed, the process is so slow that she would probably not have faced significant court proceedings before the election. If the topic ever arose on the campaign trail, she would have said it was an ongoing process in the hands of her attorneys and declined to comment.
Instead she is left with an investigation that found her perilously incompetent, calling into question her fitness for office. Director Comey said she and her staff were “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information” to which “hostile actors” might have been able to gain access. The FBI did find that “hostile actors gained access to the private commercial e-mail accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account.”
So in the view of the FBI, Hillary Clinton is a blundering fool who compromised national security but not a provable arch-criminal. This is not what the country needs in a president. “Dangerously negligent but never indicted” is an extremely low bar to set for the leadership of the free world. And it kills Hillary’s argument that she would be a highly skilled chief executive.
The failure to recommend charges will reinforce the nagging notion that the rules simply do not apply to Hillary Clinton. General David Petreaus was charged for much lesser security violations, for example. A common sense reading of the evidence shows that not only did she violate security protocols, but she instructed subordinates to do so as well.
There is also the appearance that the fix was in. Bill Clinton’s inexplicable secret meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week hopelessly tainted the process. And The New York Times puff piece Monday imagining Hillary’s first 100 days in the White House noted she might keep Lynch on as Attorney General, establishing a possible quid for the non-indictment quo. These were unforced errors on the part of the Clinton camp that are now guaranteed to remain part of the campaign.
The public may also ask how the FBI was able to reach this conclusion without having seen all of the evidence, or, if it has, why the public is not permitted to know what it is. For example, last week the State Department requested an incredible 27-month delay in releasing Clinton’s staff emails. Has the Bureau seen these emails? If not, how can they claim their investigation has been thorough? If so, why can’t the rest of us see them? And what about the outstanding allegations of sweetheart deals, graft and public corruption involving the Clinton Foundation while she served as Secretary of State?
The sense of injustice arising from this finding will rebound to the benefit of Donald Trump. It supports the argument that the system is broken and needs an outsider to come to Washington to fix it. Those who otherwise would have been content to let the justice system hold Clinton accountable will gravitate to the Trump campaign.
Disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters may now realize that their quixotic quest for change within the corrupt power structure was futile and either support Trump, look to third party candidates or sit out the election. And Clinton cannot hide behind the “ongoing investigation” rationale to avoid comment for the rest of the campaign. She will need to answer the FBI’s conclusions that find her acts short of criminal but surely indict her character.
Today’s findings did not put the issue of Hillary Clinton’s ineptitude and possible criminal mishandling of documents to rest by any means. The FBI spared Clinton a criminal indictment, but it did indict her character.
James S. Robbins writes weekly for USA TODAY and is the author of Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism and the New American Identity.