After a recent foray into politics where I mentioned that I’d probably vote for Donald Trump if no viable alternative presented itself, dozens of readers begged me to stop writing such ridiculous and/or dangerous and/or lunatic things.
After painstakingly explaining that I could not really stand the man and that I would vote for him only if Evita Rodham Clinton were the default option, many people jumped over the “I could not really stand” part and accused me of wanting to destroy the country by persuading weak-minded shut-ins to pull the lever for the Donald.
If I had that kind of power, I’d be running a small banana republic somewhere. There is, however, someone who can make a very definite difference, just not the one most conservatives hoped he would. His name is James Comey, and his day job is running the FBI. At night, he’s a standup comedian and impressionist. Last week, he put on a fabulous show, which left millions of America in stitches as he impersonated someone who actually felt comfortable refusing to file charges against Hillary Clinton over her emails.
As I watched Comey explain why Clinton was going to dodge a bullet (no wonder she’s in favor of gun control), I couldn’t help feeling I was viewing one of those hostage videos where they have the poor soul staring into the camera, saying how happy he was to be kneeling on the ground about to be killed.
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There was no escaping the fact that while his mouth was saying no, no charges will be filed, his eyes were saying yes, she’s a lying and incompetent charlatan. The problem is that, in this context, it took a lot more than just the letter of the law to justify an indictment.
Of course, many conservatives don’t see it that way. Most of my GOP Facebook friends were apoplectic that Clinton was spared a prosecution, seeing it as some conspiracy among Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Huma Abedin.
They pointed to David Petraeus, who received probation and fines (through a plea bargain) after he shared classified information and bodily fluids with his “biographer.” They kept posting the language of the statute under which Hillary could have been charged and which required something less than intent, namely, gross negligence. They pointed out that she had deliberately lied to the American people by saying she had never sent any classified information, when, in fact, she had, and knew she had.
They have some very strong points, there.
But I understand why Comey decided against charging her, and I really don’t think it had anything to do with a backroom conspiracy. This is a unique circumstance, in which the target of an investigation is a major party’s presumptive nominee.
We are four months from an election. If the charges were filed, Clinton’s camp would go into full spin mode and (1) claim sexism; (2) resurrect the vast right-wing conspiracy meme; (3) complain we wanted her to stay home and bake cookies; (4) point to this as revenge for skating on Benghazi; and all sorts of other typical Hillary things that have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with blaming others for her incompetence.
And here is where Comey, unlike yours truly, can really have some impact. By not indicting Clinton but labeling her as “extremely careless” and, essentially, calling her a liar who quite possibly allowed foreign enemies to access sensitive materials, he has shredded her facade of competence.
Clinton has been setting herself up as the “sane” one, the woman who was a pro on the world stage.
Comey has basically shown that she is a spectacular screw-up, at least from that perspective.
There will still be true believers who won’t care. But for those on the fence, Comey’s unprecedented takedown could very well be a political wake-up call.
And that could make much more of a difference than any watered-down plea bargain, a la Petraeus.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.