FBI Director James Comey between rock and hard place
Decision to probe further emails related to Clinton days before US election has drawn fire, but to have not done so would have been criticised, too
Perceptions of American democracy have been blotted by the bitterness of the contest between presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Those views have been further tainted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation director’s suggestion in the most heated days of the campaign that there could be more of the Democratic Party challenger’s private emails to probe.
The US Department of Justice, of which the FBI is part, takes pains to enforce laws without regard for politics and especially so at election time. But the decision has reinvigorated exaggerated rhetoric from the Republican side and in light of its impact on opinion polls, could also have a bearing on Tuesday’s vote.
Director James Comey informed lawmakers of his move last Friday despite the department’s decades-old policy of limiting disclosure of ongoing investigations involving candidates in the 60 days before an election. Releasing information could influence the outcome of the vote, the reasoning goes, and senior officials agree to those terms when they take office. The tradition is about integrity, impartiality and fairness and is meant to apply regardless of how important it is that justice be done.
Comey has disregarded this and Trump and the Republicans have been handed a gift that they have been only too willing to exploit.
Voters yet to make up their minds could well be swayed, even though Clinton has done nothing untoward; all that has been announced is that the FBI is looking into hundreds of thousands of emails found on a laptop belonging to disgraced former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, whose estranged wife, Huma Abedin, is one of Clinton’s top aides.
The files may, or may not, be related to a previous investigation closed in July into Clinton’s use of a private email server to carry out government business while she was secretary of state. Such carelessness could have caused security breaches, but no charges were laid. In so polarised a political environment, Comey faced criticism no matter how he handled the matter. As it is, his decision could affect the election outcome.