A Hillary Clinton campaign logo on the lapel of Bill Clinton. (Kristopher Harris / CC-BY-2.0)

Had former President Bill Clinton not met with Attorney General Loretta Lynch at a Phoenix airport, FBI Director James Comey “would never have felt obliged to go public” with information that the bureau was again looking at emails related to then-candidate Hillary Clinton, writes Michael Daly at The Daily Beast.

Bill Clinton blames Comey for Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election. “James Comey cost her the election,” he was quoted as telling a group of holiday shoppers in a Westchester County bookshop last week. But Clinton himself “bears considerably more responsibility” for his wife’s loss, Daly writes.

“His great fault is one he shares with his wife; they too often act as if rules that apply to you or me do not apply to them.” This time, the Clintonian fault made its decisive appearance when the former president met with Lynch on a tarmac at Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, Ariz., in late June.

“One rule,” Daly explains, “holds that the husband of the target of a criminal investigation should not seek to meet privately with the law enforcement official ultimately in charge of that same investigation, no matter how innocent the talk.”

Daly argues that Clinton’s meeting with Lynch compelled Comey to make the FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails more public than it needed to be.

Word of the encounter […] left Comey in an untenable situation. He had essentially come to the end of the investigation. The usual protocol called for him then to refer the findings to Department of Justice and let the prosecutors make the official determination.

What was anything but usual was that the top prosecutor had just been sitting on a plane with Bill Clinton. And for Lynch now to announce that Hillary Clinton had been cleared would call into question the integrity of all involved, including Comey and the FBI.

Had he been looking to make it easy on himself and hard on Hillary, Comey could have simply said that there was sufficient probable cause to proceed with a criminal case. He would have needed only to point to the nearly two dozen secret emails that had passed through her server.

But, in the words of one former FBI agent, Comey is “a unicorn in Washington; somebody who actually has ethics.” And he had come to the conclusion that while Hillary’s conduct had been egregiously careless, it lacked the intent necessary to support criminal charges.

Comey decided that he had to present the results directly to the public along with an explanation to dispel the appearance of impropriety as much as was possible. He did just that, making clear that he felt Hillary Clinton had been reckless and irresponsible, and that she had shown terrible judgment.

But then Democratic former Rep. Anthony Weiner became embroiled in another sexting scandal. When the FBI obtained a warrant to search his computer, the bureau found thousands of emails exchanged between Clinton aide Huma Abedin, who is Weiner’s wife, and Hillary Clinton, via Clinton’s server.

“Comey could hardly have just ignored the emails,” Daly writes, “even if he had been so inclined, which he most definitely was not. The only way he could check them was to reopen the investigation and secure a search warrant.”

With the case reopened, Comey couldn’t rule out the possibility that one of the FBI agents involved wouldn’t tip off the press. Public speculation about a cover-up on Clinton’s behalf would ensue, so “Comey apparently decided that the only thing for him to do was announce that the investigation had been reopened the very way that he had earlier announced that it had been closed.” …

The result was the letter a fortnight before the election that Bill Clinton now blames for his wife’s defeat. He is right to say that Comey’s subsequent letter clearing Hillary Clinton on the Sunday before Election Day was too late to undo the damage.

But Bill Clinton fails to note that he himself is the one who made the initial letter—and therefore the others—necessary. Comey would never have felt obliged to go public in the first place had the great man with the great fault not decided that he was above a rule such as should have kept him from striding across the tarmac and boarding Lynch’s plane. [Italics added.]

With the FBI having concluded that 2,115 emails on Clinton’s server contained classified information, 65 of which were classified secret and 22 classified top secret — and with the latter emails having the potential to “result in exceptionally grave damage to national security,” according to an FBI affidavit — Comey “could have ended Hillary Clinton’s campaign back in July if he had been interested in changing the course of the election,” Daly writes.

“She got in trouble in the first place because she felt that the rules did not apply to her. She might still have won had her husband not felt the same.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

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