Did Comey just do MORE harm to Clinton (and the country)?

I like this screenshot, because among other things it shows you just how little time is left before voting as this story breaks.

I like this screenshot, because among other things it shows you just how little time was left before voting.

So did James Comey on Sunday lift the cloud that was hurting Hillary Clinton’s chances to win the election Tuesday?

I suspect not. In fact, he may have done more harm than good. Why? Because I think she gets hurt every time her emails get mentioned, period.

Everyone recalls his big announcement over the summer when he said the FBI had found nothing worth filing charges over. But I also recall what happened a couple of days before that, on the Saturday that the FBI had one last interview with Sec. Clinton before Comey’s announcement.

The effect was, to me, quite weird. Word of the interview came on Saturday, July 2. I remember marveling at all the bulletins I was getting about it on my phone. The reaction seemed excessive, since we knew nothing except that she had been interviewed. I wondered even more when news analysis over the next couple of days was all about how this new hurt her campaign. The Washington Post‘s take at the time:

Hillary Clinton’s weekend interview with the FBI stands as a perfect symbol of what is probably her biggest liability heading into the fall election: A lot of people say they don’t trust her.

Clinton sat for an interview of more than three hours as part of a Justice Department investigation into the privately owned email system she operated off the books when she was secretary of state. The timing — less than three weeks before she will claim the Democratic presidential nomination — is an attempt to make the best of a situation that would look bad for any candidate but is particularly damaging for Clinton.

That the interview at FBI headquarters was voluntary does not expunge the whiff of suspicion surrounding the entire email affair that, for many voters, confirms a long-held view that Clinton shades the truth or plays by her own rules….

I thought that rather weird at the time. Then, of course, on July 5 — mere seconds after I had posted about how odd it was, Comey had his long “no charges” presser. Which sorta kinda relieved a lot of Democrats (he had a lot of critical things to say, too) and infuriated Republicans.

Fast-forward to Comey’s announcement 10 days ago that the FBI was looking at some more emails. Enormous damage was done to the Clinton candidacy, with her dropping in polls, infuriating Democrats and cheering up Trump supporters. And yet — think about this — there was no substance whatsoever in the announcement. There was no indication that there would be anything in the new emails that would reflect badly on the former secretary.

But was, undeniably, bad for her nevertheless.

My theory is this: We long ago passed a point at which any sentence that contains “Hillary Clinton” and “emails” is, in the collective mind of the electorate, a bad thing. And with good reason — she shouldn’t have set up the private server to begin with.

But it’s also a sort of mushy bad thing, without clear lines demarcating “good” and “bad,” so that even if the full sentence is “Hillary Clinton’s emails contain nothing incriminating,” the less detail-oriented parts of our brains still go “bad” at hearing the first three words together.

So it is that her candidacy was harmed when Comey brought up the words again 10 days ago, even without any information letting us know whether the news was indeed bad.

And, I suspect, it was harmed again yesterday when Comey essentially said, “There’s still nothing incriminating in Hillary Clinton’s emails.” As far as the political effect is concerned, we all heard only the last three words.

Here’s what I mean: I doubt the news tipped many people from planning to vote for Trump to planning to vote for Clinton. Or even from staying home, or voting third-party, to voting for Clinton.

But it once again infuriated the Republican base — including, I suspect, a lot of Republicans who were reluctant to vote for Trump, but who now are freshly reminded of how much they despise Hillary Clinton. They were kind of coasting along there experiencing various degrees of satisfaction from 10 days ago, and then BAM! — they’re outraged. Which can’t be good for her.

Please tell me I’m wrong…


7 thoughts on “Did Comey just do MORE harm to Clinton (and the country)?

  1. Burl Burlingame

    I suspect that when the history of this campaign is written, the salient point is when the FBI decided to become a partisan player.

    1. Mark Stewart

      Or maybe how some FBI employees chose to insert themselves…

      Any way you cut it; may this be Guiliani’s political swan song.

  2. Bryan Caskey

    I think everyone knows what happened, and they’ve already decided what they think about it. I don’t really think Comey’s announcements have moved the needle much either way.

    Doing something like this would get me hard federal time, but for Hillary it’s going under the rug, no matter what the outcome of the election is.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which, in one sense in which I think you might agree, could be the best thing.

      The thing that’s BAD about her email arrangement was that it was vulnerable to exposure to foreign governments, and to hostile nonstate actors such as Wikileaks.

      If we had enough control over the information in the emails so they and their contents COULD get swept under the rug, it might be better for national security.

      Of course, we’ve seen that that’s not the case. Much, if not all, of that toothpaste is out of the tube…

      1. Bart


        For you, it may not be a big deal at all. You are a Hillary voter even though you voted for Sanders in the primary. But for others who do not share your views, it is a big deal. It is not so much the emails but the manner in which they were handled by Clinton. Clinton took the oath of office as the SOS for the United States of America. There were rules in place that applied directly to security of information and dissemination of the information on a secured State Department server when discussing ANY official department affairs or business. When Clinton chose to use a personal server located in her home in NY, she purposefully and willingly bypassed protocol and by doing so, exposed what could have been sensitive and damaging information to hackers who in turn passed the emails on to Assange and Wikileaks. And to offer a salient point about hacking, according to the FBI, there is no evidence that Russia was involved in the many hacking attempts on her personal server.

        Pointing fingers at Condi Rice and Colin Powell for supposedly doing the same simply does not hold water because neither one is running for POTUS. And Colin Powell was angry and upset when Clinton used him as an example especially after he had warned her to use the State Department’s secure server for State Department affairs and business. He and Rice used their personal computers for personal communications, not for conducting State Department affairs.

        Again, it is the lack of respect for the rules and protocols in place for communications while serving as a high ranking representative of the US and dealing with highly sensitive matters.

        One former employer I worked for would have fired me on the spot if I had used my personal computer to disseminate any communications to clients or anyone that involved company business.

        It comes down to a matter of trust as much as it does ideology and on the emails and using her private server, Hillary Clinton gets the lowest grade possible on trust and there is no one she can blame other than herself.

        Again, it may not matter or be a big deal to you but to most of us, it is a big deal and does matter. It also highlights the importance of trust when it comes to Trump as well. I have no trust in him at all and consider him to be just as dangerous or more so than Clinton.

        We have four very difficult and divisive years ahead of us and it is almost a certainty Clinton will be POTUS. We deserve better than Clinton or even the possibility of Trump.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    Clinton’s emails were not made public by Clinton. They were deliberately leaked by Republicans “investigating” her.


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