This unpredictable election race suddenly became more complicated on Friday. For months I had been warning that nominating Hillary Clinton, with her history of serious ethical transgressions, was not only an improper move by the Democratic establishment, but also a politically risky move. While it is doubtful she could have beaten any other Republicans, the repeated acts of self-destruction by Donald Trump appeared to placed Clinton on path for a safe victory. The race had already become tighter, with Trump narrowing the gap in some polls, pulling within two percent in the Washington Post-ABC News tracking poll. A dramatic new development in the email scandal now means that Clinton cannot run on the clock, and might not win by the margins predicted just a few days ago.
We actually know very little other than that material found during the FBI probe into Anthony Weiner sexting a minor has led the FBI to reopen their investigation of Hillary Clinton and her private server. It is hard to believe that the James Comey would have made such an announcement this close to the election unless there was something significant. We have no meaningful information yet and and at this point it is all speculation. Among the possibilities are that classified information might have turned up on a computer or phone used by Weiner and/or his wife Huma Abedin. Possibly there might be email exchanges which shed more light on the question of intent. While the law does not stipulate that intent is a factor, the double standard applied to Hillary Clinton, as opposed to others who have mishandled classified information, has required evidence of intent in her case.
As is typical of Clinton and her supporters, the immediate response was to attack the messenger, with attacks on James Comey for sending his letter this week. In reality, Comey had no choice. He had testified before Congress that the investigation was closed, making him obligated to inform Congress of the change in status. If he failed to divulge this until after the election he would have been accused of playing politics. It is also questionable if this could have been kept secret. Many career officials at the FBI and Department of Justice have reportedly been upset with Comey’s decision not to recommend indictment of Clinton, and might have leaked the fact they are now looking into new evidence.
Unless there is a bigger bombshell, Clinton will most likely still win, with tribalism leading most traditional Democratic voters to stick with her. Trump has also alienated far too many people, for good reason, to fully capitalize on this development. Still, we have an unusual election in which the majority dislikes and distrusts both major party candidates. Whichever has their negatives most strongly in the minds of the voters on election day will suffer. Clinton is faced not only with the email scandal, but with a steady release of embarrassing information from Wikileaks, including most recently how the Clinton Foundation was used to sell influence for the personal financial gain of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The headlines shifting from Trump bragging about assaulting women to the Clinton scandals can have an impact, both on the presidential election and on down ticket Democratic candidates. It also also likely that Clinton’s opposition researchers will release something new this week to attempt to put the attention back on Trump.
While James Comey previously said that no prosecutor would bring the case against Hillary Clinton, his statement was quite harmful to Clinton, showing both that she was extremely careless with classified information and that her defense of her actions in statements to the American people and before Congress were not truthful. The mishandling of classified information is only one aspect of the scandal, with the State Department Inspector General report also showing that she violated the rules put into effect to promote government transparency, failed to cooperate with the investigation, and has repeatedly lied about her actions. Clinton also violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State, casting considerable doubt as to whether she should subsequently be trusted with another government position especially the presidency.
Clinton very well could still win due to all the problems with Donald Trump, but hopefully voters will realize that, even if they see Clinton as the lesser evil, she still deserves an extraordinary degree of scrutiny should she become president.