Last week, to the delight of Huma Abedin conspiracy theorists and Anthony Weiner obsessives, FBI director James Comey threw one last bucket of gasoline on the dumpster fire that is his bureau’s endless witch-hunt for Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Telling a Senate committee that Abedin “appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding emails to [Weiner], for him I think to print out for her so she could then deliver them to the Secretary of State.” Comey claimed that “hundreds and thousands” of emails were recovered from Weiner’s laptop.
But according to reporter Peter Elkind at ProPublica, the FBI is embarrassed that Comey “misstated” the case — and they’re still trying to figure out how to clean up after his “inaccurate” statements.
According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her Blackberry.
It was not clear how many, if any, of the forwarded emails were among the 12 “classified” emails Comey said had been found on Weiner’s laptop. None of the messages carried classified markings at the time they were sent.
Comey told senators that he felt “mildly nauseous” to think that his letter to chief Clinton inquisitor Rep. Jason Chaffetz regarding Weiner’s laptop had an effect on the results of last November’s election. Promptly leaked to a press that was already well-conditioned to sensationalize Clinton email stories, the letter became a perfect storm of Bothsiderist media babble during the height of early voting. Polling data shows that the story probably did have a decisive impact in making Donald Trump president.
Unlike, say, the FBI counterintelligence investigation of the Donald Trump campaign, which he kept secret until well after the election, Comey has never been afraid to defy Department of Justice policy by making public statements about the Clinton email probe.
Rather than quietly disappoint Republicans by simply declining to press charges against the Democratic nominee, Comey chose to make a speech decrying her email habits. Remember?
“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information,” Comey said in a unique press conference, “there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Unsatisfied with this rhetorical morsel, Republicans howled in protest and Chaffetz recalled Comey to Capitol Hill for explanations. Remember?
To Clinton’s assertion that she never sent or received information marked classified on her private email, Comey pointed to the investigation’s findings to the contrary.
“That’s not true. There were a small number of portion markings on I think three of the documents,” Comey said. (The State Department on Wednesday said that two of those documents were inadvertently marked.)
On Clinton’s statement that she did not email classified material to anyone, Comey responded, “There was classified email.”
In fact, Clinton had received messages bearing a letter “C” for CONFIDENTIAL, the lowest level of classification. Updating that testimony became Comey’s initial excuse for issuing his singular letter eleven days before Election Day. Three days before the voting ended, Comey gave Clinton the all-clear with far less fanfare than the letter had stirred up for an all-too-crucial week.
As a result of Comey’s actions, President Trump got to put a known paid Russian agent in charge of his National Security Council. It is incumbent on Comey to correct that error by pursuing the counterintelligence investigation as far as it can go. But even a dozen or more convictions should not excuse him before history.
Comey’s explanation for his late letter has shifted over time: friendly media stories have said there was pressure from anti-Clinton zealots in the New York FBI field office, and that Comey was afraid of leaks. The FBI director told the senate last week that he felt obligated to send Congress the letter because Bill Clinton visited Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s plane, which was a careless act that nevertheless had zero impact on the investigation.
As Sen. Diane Feinstein noted on Meet the Press this Sunday, Comey’s excuses for the “needless” letter are unconvincing because he could have at least obtained a search warrant to find out what was in Weiner’s laptop before announcing anything.
So what’s Comey’s excuse this time?
It matters. Time and time again, Comey has consistently gone out of his way to impose a double-standard towards Hillary Clinton. If his explanation for this latest imbroglio is as weak as the ones that came before it, then Comey needs to finish the job of investigating the Trump administration and then resign, regardless of the outcome.
If James Comey can’t apologize, and won’t do the honorable thing, then Democrats should resolve that his services will not be desired in the future.
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