The “October surprise” of a new batch of Hillary’s e-mails has threatened to upset the election. The democrats have cried foul and perhaps for good reason. There is a long standing tradition in all democratic governments than in the weeks leading up to an election government agencies are supposed to be in a state of Purdah, which means no statements should be released that might sway the vote either way. While the system isn’t quite as official and regulated in the US as it is in the UK, it is still a widely respected policy. Its been suggested that FBI chief James Comey actions, who is also a registered Republican, might actually be illegal and thus he could end up in prison rather than Hillary.
Indeed the FBI’s actions here don’t add up. Normal practice would be to keep this sort of thing confidential (even if there wasn’t an election going on) until you have something more tangible (such as some actual “evidence”, the FBI haven’t even read these e-mails yet, they could be a collection of Hillary’s pot roast recipes for all we know). This applies whether you are investigating a political candidate or Benny from the Bronx or Johnny tightlips.
Why? Well for starters we have this principle of innocent until proven guilty. If you don’t even have evidence of guilt (never mind proof), its a little early to be throwing around accusations. It makes getting an unbiased jury harder and makes it more likely the defendant will get off on a technicality (as it kind of implies you launched a fishing expedition against him, which technically the cops aren’t supposed to do). Also obviously enough if a prep knows they are being investigated they will do something about it, skip town, intimidate witnesses, “retire” a key informant, etc. Given that the democrats now see this as a GOP plot, they are closing ranks, the chances of the FBI completing their investigation in a timely manner are somewhere between slim and none. So one is forced to the conclusion that either James Comey is grossly incompetent or criminally abusing his office for political ends.
But how serious is this e-mail scandal? Well firstly we do need to remember that back when Hillary did set up this account it was against the backdrop of wikileaks when there were fears that US government e-mail systems weren’t that secure. This was largely the fault of Obama’s predecessor G. W. Bush. His big idea, the department of Homeland security, was a bureaucratic nightmare. So in order to make it work, they adopted very lax controls over e-mail security, which was exploited by Wikileak whistle-blowers.
Also at the time the legislation governing the handling of confidential materials was a bit ambiguous, it wasn’t clear if it applied to e-mails. Keep in mind that Hillary’s predecessor, Condelezza Rice went around with a blackberry during her time in office (the whole reason Hillary went with this private e-mail server was because the NSA won’t supply her with a secure blackberry). On the other hand, its been argued Hillary might have been using a private e-mail server to avoid future FOI requests. Keep in mind that the GOP have been bombarding her with these for the last 25 years. So her paranoia is understandable, but its possible she was genuinely trying to hid something (e.g. emails to wall street bankers, the Clinton foundation, etc.). But the point is A) we don’t know, this is all speculation. And B) Republicans have done the same thing or far worse in the past.
If the bar for prosecution and denying someone access to high office is this low, then G. W. Bush (two illegal wars, black sites, illegal use of torture, the biggest recession in 80 years), G. H. Bush (Panama invasion, the Church committee while head of CIA), Reagan (Iran Contra) should all have been impeached and removed from office. And Mitt Romney and Trump himself should also be disqualified as both have done far worse than anything committed by Hilary. To call the Republicans behaviour here double standards doesn’t even come close.
Of course, one factor in all of this everyone seems to forget is that there’s a long standing tradition in US politics that upon the election of a new president, the heads off all of the US government departments will file a letter of resignation with the new president. Now generally the incoming president will refuse to accept their resignation and re-appoint them. But every once in a while they don’t (Nixon was notorious for using this to get rid of officials he didn’t like). Given the frayed relationship between Hillary and Comey, he probably feared she won’t e-mail him back once he tenders his resignation (her likely claiming that she didn’t want to force the FBI to start another e-mail investigation!) and he’d be out on his ear.
So there’s an element of cynical short-sightedness here. Comey, trying to save his career, regardless of the cost to the country. Of course whether you’d want to be FBI chief with Trump in charge is another matter. He’ll use the FBI to go after his perceived enemies, so he’ll spend the next 4 years reading the e-mails of Hillary and late night comedians, while drug dealers, the mafia (who may have Trump on the payroll), terrorists and corrupt business executives get ignored. In short the FBI will be sent back to the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover’s time in charge…if they aren’t already there!.
And of course, what’s the likely outcome? Well if Hillary wins (which is still the most likely outcome), not only is Comey gone but pretty much every Republican senior office holder too. She would be well within her rights to argue that if the GOP are going to use the offices of state to settle political scores and play silly games, screw you, I’ll sack the lot of ye’s and appoint democrats or independents to those jobs instead. Of course this will lead to yet more partisan politics and a lack of political progress.
And speaking of short-sightedness, what is Assange up too? Okay, he doesn’t like Hillary, she doesn’t like him. But what does he hope to achieve? Does he want Trump to be elected? What will happen then? Assange’s claim for seeking asylum is that he fears going back to Sweden in case they extradite him to the US where he may fact charges carrying the death penalty. This doesn’t add up. Sweden has laws in place that would forbid extradition under such circumstances. But with Trump in charge, do you think Trump is going to respect Ecuadorian sovereignty? No way, he’ll have some assassin blow Assange’s brains out from across the street or send some Green Beret’s in to drag him out. So for the sake of scoring a few childish points, he’s jeopardising his own life and the entire political system. No wonder he has the Ecuadorian’s nervous. My guess is Trump or Hillary he’ll likely be put out on the street not long after the election, as he has now made himself a liability.
The short-sightedness of some people, they’re willingness to cut off their own nose to spite their face, is just sometimes baffling. Hopefully American voters will have the good sense to see through the facade to what’s really going on here and ignore it.