The headline is absurd, misleading, irresponsible. Dropped 11 days before the election, it’s vile. Yet it’s the sort of headlines we woke up to this morning with Hillary Clinton’s latest run-in with her own emails. It hangs on that cynical chad of justification: it is technically half true. She may not have raped a child. The other half has yet to be disproved, making it to her campaign the potentially fatal slander that nevertheless exploits just enough of a legal air bubble in this sewer of an election to seem fair game. At least to those who feel equally at home in their TV room as in their septic tank, FBI Director James Comey among them.
Dan Rather was fired from a 43-year career at CBS for pulling that trick on George W. Bush’s National Guard service less than a month from the 2004 election. He hadn’t checked his documents, which proved shady. Comey may win a Congressional Medal of Honor by the time he retires for pulling the same trick on Clinton. But he’s the FBI director. So he not only can get away with it. He gives cover to the narrative that makes Clinton look like an enemy of the state even as he tells Congress that his agency “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”
And chances are the significance to her will be nil to yawning, judging from what we’ve known from 18 months of Clinton-email foraging and what we know of these particular emails’ connection to Anthony Wiener, the Trump-like object of his own desires who has a habit of texting images of his cock to women and, it appears, underage girls. Comey knows, according to his own memo–uncovered by Fox News, of all networks–that the move is rankly political, that it breaks with FBI precedent, and that “there is significant risk of being misunderstood.” He is not just covering his ass. He is covered in ass. But that’s par for an election where, as the Sydney Morning Herald’s Nick O’Malley wrote, “It could be that the Pussy Grabber will become the president because Anthony Weiner kept on sending photos of his penis to women. For years.”
There’s no question that the original fault for all this is Clinton. Setting up an email server in her home was a colossal error of judgment and proof of her habit of secrecy, though I wouldn’t call it Nixonian. She reminds me more of a compulsive hoarder than a Machiavellian felon. “Do we actually know who told Hillary she could use a private email? And has that person been drawn and quartered?” Clinton aide Neera Tanden asked in one of those hacked emails. Why look past Clinton? She told herself she could do it, and did.
Her explanation in March 2015 should have had her drawn and quartered. It was embarrassing and offensive to anyone who knows the first thing about emails, which maybe leaves out the last Hopi holdout in an undiscovered Arizona cave. Her parody of a news conference last night from Des Moines was worse: she didn’t even pretend to answer questions or address the issue beyond putting it on the FBI. The “whole thing,” as Tanden so eloquently put it originally, “is fucking insane.”
What it’s missing of course is a little context and perspective. There’s no question that Clinton’s email insanity is a problem. But as problems go, it’s not the hydrogen bomb the throbbing veins on her detractors’ necks make it out to be, even and especially when you throw in the Clinton Foundation. Bill and Hillary Clinton are not Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. What one did with his foundation and the other did with her emails did not break laws. They did not pass secrets to enemies. They grubbed for money to good ends in a clumsy Robin Hood sort of way. I have no issue taking $12 million from the a distasteful Moroccan king or any millions from a despicable Saudi one if it’s going to help stave off AIDS for a few million people or give poor women and girls better access to health care, as the Clinton Foundation does. But reading the reactionary press you’d think the foundation was running guns to ISIS and Hillary was mass-mailing to recruit for Hamas and Hezbollah.
The facts are painfully duller, which only makes Clinton’s stonewalling and continued stuttering about it almost as deplorable as the Tamerlane brigades arraigned against her.
Those facts don’t register with the sort of hysterical trolls who’ll be massing in the comment section below soon enough. They may be irrelevant in this “Apprentice”-like remake of The Crucible. But the election is not an Apprentice episode. Evidence still matters. So here it is in summary as we know it so far. Yes, there were at least 75,000 emails, only 30,000 of which Clinton turned over, 33,000 of which she destroyed, and another 15,000 further uncovered by the FBI, not counting whatever emails were on the Weiner device he shared with his then-wife Huma Abedin, Clinton’s closest aide then as now.
Clinton says she destroyed the emails because they were personal. Maybe, maybe not. But the 40 percent of the batch she did turn over, or 73 percent, including the FBI’s findings, is certainly a higher proportion than the 10 percent of emails Jeb Bush turned over from the personal server he set up while governor of Florida. As with Clinton, only Bush and his aides went through the emails to decide what to release and what to hold back. Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Texas Gov., Rick Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal all had either private servers or private email accounts from which they’ve not released official documents.
All these men are have-beens. They’re not running for president. So let’s look at an actual president and his vice president: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Those paragons of transparency and honest government demolished some 22 million White House emails, or had them “disappeared,” Argentinian-style. And those emails weren’t about yoga or wedding plans. They involved state secrets, if not potential indictments of the many crimes these two men perpetrated with abandon across a few continents, when all wars and black sites are accounted for. As Newsweek reported in September, “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.”
Perhaps Bush and Cheney should’ve been locked up. A truth commission might’ve helped make that decision. Thanks to President Obama’s misplaced pander to conciliation Cheney got to take up his post as snarler emeritus on right-wing shout shows while Bush got to creepily paint himself taking baths. Trump is absolutely right: there’s a double-standard in media coverage. The men are getting back-slapped. The woman is getting it between the eyes. I’m shocked, shocked that sexism is going on in this Trump casino, says Capt. Renault.
From what the FBI did recover and analyze in the Clinton emails, eight chains included top secret information, 36 chains included “secret” information, and eight chains included “confidential information.” But those classifications were made after the fact. “Government investigators say they found classified information in emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server,” The Times reported. “The emails were not marked classified at the time, and it is unclear if Mrs. Clinton knew that the information was classified.”
Those details and nuances never make it into prosecutorial news reports because they throw too much water on the stake’s flames. But it’s why the most the FBI could find against Clinton was that she was “extremely careless.” Bad enough, but nothing so comparably egregious as what the Bush-Cheney duo pulled, and certainly nothing that warrants stopping the planet on its axis the moment Comey emails Congress in late-night infomercial style, “Wait! There Is More!”
Nor do we know what the classified emails contain, naturally. We’ll find out in about a generation, assuming the classification fetish doesn’t spread that far. But the fetish is itself an unspoken problem: “In fiscal year 2010, officials made 77 million decisions to classify information,” the director of the Information Security Oversight Office during the Bush years and a colleague wrote a few years ago. “Even the most security-minded government officials — including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, and Porter J. Goss, the former director of national intelligence — have said that far too much information is classified. Defense Department and National Security Council experts have estimated that anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of classified documents could safely be made public.”
It reminds me of an observation in a Solzhenitzyn book where KGB agents would scour New York City newsstands in the 1950s to pick up copies of Popular Mechanics and other such scientific and medical magazines, then ship them to Moscow, where they’d be transformed into classified documents of the highest order. Unauthorized disclosure would warrant Siberia.
Clinton is facing her own brand of KGB Kafkas in FBI garb. I have little doubt that when those “classified” emails of Clinton’s are finally released, they’ll be found to have been no more significant to national security than the size of her bunions, except maybe to graduates of the Henry Kissinger school of hush (of which Clinton is one). The constant stream of Wikileak revelations has been no more consequential: whether it’s her speeches to Wall Street, which reveal a measured and necessary blend of economic realism and idealism (again: why would she want to hide any of it, including and especially that European Union-like call for open borders?) or the intramural bickering of her campaign aides, none of it would have mattered had she had the sense to out it all on morning chat shows à-la-Ellen, where most of that dullish material belongs.
A sordid irony seems to escape the sound and fury around it all: While Trump and his rally choirs call for locking up the woman who was so careless with a few dozen emails retroactively found to be vaguely sensitive, here’s Trump encouraging Russia to spy and hack into American servers, here he is applauding Wikileak for previously dumping troves of documents that have revealed state and military secrets (going back to the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, encompassing relations with innumerable foreign governments and, at least according to the Pentagon, endangering American lives), here he is gloating of holding Clinton accountable while standing on a pile of theft. He’s always thrived from having others swing his baseball bats while exploiting false and slanderous accusations. He’s now poised to measure White House walls for pink marble.
Still I doubt Trump can ride this last Joe McCarthy Halloween special to a win. Just as none of his voters would change their mind if he murdered someone on Fifth Avenue, none of Clinton’s voters are about to change their mind because her arguments over catering at Chelsea’s wedding may have ended up in Huma Abedin’s in-box. That leaves those in between, that center where shrillness and ideology don’t play so well. The difference between the two campaigns’ bases should itself be a guide.
That difference tells you everything you need to know about the ethical chasm between them. Clinton’s flaws have the familiar echoes of 43 presidencies. She’s not reinventing corruption’s wheel here. It’s an understandable turnoff, and against a less weathered alternative she might have had no chance. But a turnoff so strident that Trump becomes the alternative? He has no precedent, no echoes, only the din of irrational alibis: his supporters have excused his self-described sexual predation, his unparalleled secrecy, his globalist hypocrisy on trade or undocumented immigrants, both of which he depends on for his empire, his towering debts, his tax-dodging, his default setting for insulting anyone and everyone, his bigotry, his sexism, his ignorance about domestic policy, war, foreign policy, governance. How any one of these flaws is any more excusable than all of Clinton’s flaws put together and then some is beyond me.
They all are, obviously, at least to those capable against all sense to cast a vote for him. That throbbing neck vein Trump is tapping has nothing to do with any of that. It’s not about evidence, facts, reality. It’s certainly not about nuance. At least not for that angry Trump mass, otherwise we wouldn’t have been left with this spectacle of the most insubstantial bloat in American presidential history. I just can’t imagine that this nation could be so deluded as to actually elect a man so deranged. But this has been the year of the unimaginable. Either way it goes, it will be.