Sunday, October 30, 2016

IOKIYAR: On The New FBI Witch Hunt

That acronym means It's OK If You Are Republican, and it applies to many aspects of American politics.  For instance, Republicans can be rude, because it's part of their brand, but Democrats can't be rude, because it's not part of their brand.  Democrats must pretend to be bipartisan; Republicans can openly be as partisan as they wish, and the press will only report the failings of the Democrats.

This has been going on for years.  President Obama extended a hand across the political aisle several times.  Sometimes he had his hand bitten, sometimes it was ignored.  I'm not sure if he learned his lesson.

Anyway, he was the person who appointed James Comey to the directorship of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI).  Comey is a Republican.

It's that little fact which makes judging his Friday news dump difficult.  Is he acting for the Republican Party here?  Or is he just following the letter of the law about what he has to do?

If you have been having fun or visiting some other planet (lucky you), this is the letter James Comey sent on Friday:

Perhaps he had to send it?  Some legal experts believe so.

At the same time, the letter is surprisingly empty of content:  "Because those emails appear to be pertinent to our investigation, I agreed that we should take appropriate steps to obtain and review them."

In other words, Comey hasn't seen them.

Later he writes:

"At the same time, however, given that we don't know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don't want to create a misleading impression."

Put that into your pipe and smoke it.  The Trumpeteers are certainly doing so, believing that they have something wonderfully illegal and intoxicating in that pipe, something that will lift Trump high.  In fact, we have no idea if any of the emails are from Hillary Clinton, and I have read that they are not from her private server.

It's the timing* of Comey's statement which has received most criticism:

Comey’s letter to Congress has subjected the FBI director to withering criticism. Top Justice Department officials were described by a government source as “apoplectic” over the letter. Senior officials “strongly discouraged” Comey from sending it, telling FBI officials last week it would violate longstanding department policy against taking actions in the days before an election that might influence the outcome, a U.S official familiar with the matter told Yahoo News. “He was acting independently of the guidance given to him,” said the U.S. official.

How about the timing of other email scandals in various past US governments?  Now that's a pertinent question, I would think, so I went searching for similar strict adherence to laws, ethics and regulations.

And I found interesting items, such as this one:

Clinton’s email habits look positively transparent when compared with the subpoena-dodging, email-hiding, private-server-using George W. Bush administration. Between 2003 and 2009, the Bush White House “lost” 22 million emails. This correspondence included millions of emails written during the darkest period in America’s recent history, when the Bush administration was ginning up support for what turned out to be a disastrous war in Iraq with false claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and, later, when it was firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

Like Clinton, the Bush White House used a private email server—its was owned by the Republican National Committee. And the Bush administration failed to store its emails, as required by law, and then refused to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking some of those emails.

And this one:

Did Colin Powell suggest that Hillary Clinton should use her private email account as secretary of state—as he had admittedly done in that same job several years earlier?
Last week, The New York Times confirmed that Powell did offer her precisely that advice, based on an account in my forthcoming book on Bill Clinton’s post-presidency. Yet Powell has responded by insisting that he has “no recollection” of such an incident.

Toward the end of the evening, over dessert, Albright asked all of the former secretaries to offer one salient bit of counsel [to Clinton].... Powell suggested that she use her own email, as he had done, except for classified communications, which he had sent and received via a State Department computer on his desk. Saying that his use of personal email had been transformative for the department, Powell thus confirmed a decision she had made months earlier.

And these cases:

Recently Jeb Bush released a large volume of emails from the personal – i.e., non-governmental – email account that he routinely used as Florida governor, and then praised his own transparency with self-serving extravagance. The only problem is that those released emails represent only 10 percent of the total. The rest he has simply withheld, without any public review.

When Scott Walker served as Milwaukee county executive, before he was elected Wisconsin governor, he and his staff used a secret email system for unlawful campaign work on public time; that system emerged as part of an investigation that ultimately sent one of his aides to prison (another was immunized by prosecutors). Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has used a personal email account for government business, as has former Texas governor Rick Perry. So have Florida senator Marco Rubio, and various congressmembers who have been heard to spout off about Clinton’s emails, such as Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Those examples epitomize hypocrisy, of course — yet none compares with the truly monumental email scandal of the Bush years, when millions of emails went missing from White House servers – and many more were never archived, as required since 1978 by the Presidential Records Act. Dozens of Bush White House staff used a series of private email accounts provided by the Republican National Committee (whose loud-talking chairman Reince Priebus now mocks Clinton as the “Secretary of Secrecy”). The RNC’s White House email clients most notably included scandal-ridden Bush advisor Karl Rove, who used the party accounts for an estimated 95 percent of his electronic messaging, and by Rove’s staff.
Among many other dubious activities, Rove aide Susan Ralston used her private RNC email to discuss Interior Department appointments with the office of crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who wanted to influence the department on behalf of gambling interests. According to Abramoff associate Kevin Ring, another White House official explained to him that “it is better not to put this stuff in their email system because it might actually limit what they can do to help us, especially since there could be lawsuits, etc…” While Rove was forced to surrender some emails involving his notorious exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, he retained the capacity to delete thousands of emails.

I quote in such length because it's worth doing:  The rules are different for Republicans.  I also suspect that the rules might be particularly harsh for female Democratic politicians.

Comey's letter has effects similar to the ordeal by water in medieval witch trials:  Throw the woman in the water!  If she floats, she is a witch and must be burned.  If she drowns, she was innocent.   The similarity is in the outcomes from this letter.

The accused cannot win, and neither can H. Clinton, not really, because she cannot defend herself against accusations which are utterly unspecified.

* See also this article which argues that Comey acted as the rules required him to act, except for the timing:

15) Did Comey breach law enforcement norms by sending yesterday’s letter?
For starters, the Justice Department is very cautious about taking major actions in politically loaded cases in the immediate run-up to an election and has policies expressly limiting this kind of activity. This caution exists because our political culture doesn’t want the FBI to influence elections by opening or conducting investigations in a fashion prejudicial to one of the candidates. A 2012 memorandum from Attorney General Eric Holder to all Justice Department employees articulating this policy says that “If you are faced with a question regarding the timing of charges or overt investigative steps near the time of a primary or general election, please contact the Public Integrity Section of the Criminal Division for further guidance.” While the Public Integrity Section declined to comment on whether Comey followed these guidelines common sense suggests that Comey, by consulting with Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and the attorney general herself, did something more than consult with Public Integrity. And it’s not clear that the steps he has taken (authorizing a review of emails) count as “overt investigative steps” anyway, though the letter to Congress might.
That said, this is a case in point of why this policy exists.
Here Comey opened a new set of questions about one of the major party candidates with 11 days to go in the campaign—questions he has all but said he can’t answer yet. Doing so offers an open-ended opportunity for Clinton’s opponents to make inferences about her conduct. And Trump has done exactly that, saying yesterday “they are reopening the case into her criminal and illegal conduct that threatens the security of the United States of America. Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale that we have never seen before.”
More generally, as discussed above, Comey’s willingness to talk about his investigative findings is itself atypical—and generally frowned upon.
Notably, the attorney general and Yates appear to have cautioned against what Comey did. Prior to his announcement, the attorney general allegedly “expressed her preference” that Comey follow the Department of Justice’s practice, described above, and not comment. Despite her advice, at least one administration official has said that Comey felt “obliged” to inform congress because he had promised to do so if there were developments in the case.