Hillary Clinton was back yesterday, taking “absolute personal responsibility” by blaming Russia, James Comey, and misogyny for her second presidential election loss. If the election had taken place on October 27, Clinton maintained, she’d be president. Perhaps if we all lived in a vacuum where the electorate ignored everything the Democratic Party’s flawed nominee had said and done (and tried to hide), she may well be in the White House — although even that’s debatable.
Clinton’s counterfactual tale about the infamous “Comey letter” has been a security blanket for many Democrats. But, as luck would have it, the FBI director was testifying in front of a Senate Judiciary Committee today, and he reminded us of some factors that Clinton ignored. That’s because even if we concede that Comey’s letter to Congress helped sink Clinton, Hillary deserved that letter, and the FBI director had no choice but to send it.
In essence, what many Democrats have been arguing for the past six months is that Comey should have actively buried evidence that was pertinent to an ongoing congressional investigation — one that, incidentally, had turned up plenty of potential wrongdoing — because it might hurt their preferred candidate’s chances.
On Tuesday, Comey, in fact, confirmed that the FBI had learned that classified emails were forwarded from Clinton’s email account by Clinton aide Huma Abedin to her husband Anthony Weiner so he could print them out. (This appears to be illegal, but perhaps all those immunity deals Comey was handing out came in handy.) Her computer, like other servers and laptops that Hillary’s staff tried to dispose of, hide, clean, and whatnot, were supposed to have been in the hands of the FBI.
It’s worth pointing out that everything in the Comey letter was almost surely going to leak anyway. Not only because of its connection to the Hillary investigation but because of this “fella Anthony Weiner,” as Comey referred to him today, had access to classified information. That may not have made things any better for Hillary, but it certainly would have made the FBI look like it was actively protecting a candidate — which is undoubtedly why Comey said it was potentially “catastrophic.”
Whatever his political calculations, however, there was simply no reason for him not to apprise Congress of that kind of discovery. As this article by Newsweek pointed out at the time, Comey had an ethical obligation to inform Congress despite the best contrary efforts of overt partisans like Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Not only because Department of Justice rules maintain that relevant committees should be apprised of new evidence, but because Comey had informed Congress that he had completed its review. Once he did that, and once he came into possession of significant evidence that would have to be examined by the FBI, Comey had a duty to notify Congress to amend his initial testimony, which was no longer true.
Setting all that aside, however, it’s also worth reiterating that it was Hillary, not Comey, who initially set up a secret server to circumvent transparency, likely to hide favor-trading related to her foundation. It was Hillary, not Comey, who sent unsecured classified documents through that server, although she almost surely knew it was wrong. (The New York Times had pointed out chances are high that these documents were intercepted by foreign powers.) It was Hillary, not Comey, who was responsible for attempts to destroy all evidence related to that server. It was Hillary’s people, as Comey noted in his original congressional testimony, that had “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” And it was Hillary’s aide who failed to inform the FBI about classified emails on her computer.
It was Hillary who ran a poor campaign and lost to one of the most unpopular presidential candidates in history. As David Axelrod pointed out today, she never took responsibility for any of it:
But Jim Comey didn’t tell her not to campaign in Wisconsin after the convention. Jim Comey didn’t say to put any resources in Michigan until the final week of the campaign. And one of the things that hindered her in the campaign was a sense that she never fully was willing to take responsibility for her mistakes, particularly that server. And, you know, so if I were her, if I were advising her, I would say don’t do this, don’t go back and appear as if you are shifting responsibility off of yourself. She said the words ‘I am responsible,’ but everything else suggested she doesn’t feel that way and I don’t think that helps her in the long-run. So if I were her, I would move on.
Moreover, as Comey basically admitted again today, Clinton had clearly broken the law. The only struggle was proving intent (though gross negligence was the standard.) So rather than smearing Comey, Clinton should be thanking him for not suggesting she be indicted.