FBI Director James Comey’s Letter to Congress — A Game Changer or a Nothingburger?


OCTOBER 31, 2016


Photo: AP

On Friday afternoon, just before Exact Change Today went to press (like I actually go to press — it’s just me and my dopey laptop), FBI director James Comey announced, via a letter to Congress, that new e-mails relevant to the probe of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server have come to his attention and warrant a new investigation.

Comey, who announced in July that Clinton had done nothing to force criminal charges to be brought against her  in the e-mail scandal, made the move out of the blue with only (at that time) 11 days left before the election, which prompted both Democrats and Republicans to question his timing.   Former Attorneys General Eric Holder and Alberto Gonzales (of all people!) agreed that Comey’s letter being released so close to an election was way out of line and violated every conceivable Department of Justice protocol.

When the letter was first revealed on Friday, there was fear in some Democratic circles that this could be the game changer that many of Clinton’s supporters had been fearing.  Most believed that her e-mail controversy had been put to bed, given Comey’s statements in July, so to have it raised once again so close to Election Day caused panic in some Democratic quarters, fearing that the revelation might derail Clinton’s growing lead in battleground states.

However, as more information began to be revealed over the weekend, the subject of condemnation began to shift from Clinton to Comey himself.  To begin with, initial reports that the case against Clinton would be reopened proved to be totally false.  The investigation in question is not directly about Clinton but instead focuses on the activities of disgraced Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner (him again), whose estranged wife, top Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, shared an e-mail server with Weiner.

The implication is that Abedin may have received e-mails from Clinton while she was Secretary of State that have been heretofore unaccounted for, and if any of those e-mails were marked “classified,” look out.  But Comey’s letter to Congress was so vague in its details that it momentarily brought Democrats and Republicans together in condemning its lack of specificity — Republicans wanting specific charges that a Clinton investigation would probe, Democrats simply wanting to know if there’s any there there.

This is not to say that Trump is not making hay out of the situation — his cries of “Crooked Hillary” are given a little more bite with Comey’s letter — but based on polling taken after the letter was released, the effect of its revelation has been absolutely…nothing.  An NBC News poll released on Monday afternoon showed that Clinton, who had a seven point lead on Trump nationally before Comey’s letter came out, had the exact same seven point lead after the news of the FBI director’s letter.  It would seem that her e-mail troubles have already been baked in to voters’ views of Clinton, and this incident hasn’t moved the dial one inch.

Where this may help for Republicans are in those down-ballot races for the Senate or governorships.  Incumbent GOP Senators who are in tough reelection races — I’m thinking of Pat Toomey in PA, Kelly Ayotte in NH and Marco Rubio in FL — may appear after this news to be more attractive to GOP voters who can’t bring themselves to vote for Trump but want to put a check on President Hillary Clinton.

If I was a betting man (and I am), my guess is that there’s going to be a whole lot of smoke on this story for the next 8 days, but at the end, it’s going to be big fat nothingburger once again.  Clinton will be just fine, but this last minute dustup could cost the Democrats the chance to take over the Senate, and that would have huge ramifications on Democrats being able to reshape the next Supreme Court.

In addition, Comey is not going anywhere for now and will likely still be FBI Director when the next President of the United States is inaugurated.  If that President is Hillary Clinton, he will have provoked an unnecessary fight with the new President, which he may live to regret.