When you want to put major news events into proper perspective, it helps to use your Time Machine.
Today, we’ll discover how our Time Machine can clarify our view of what matters most in FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedentedly transparent announcement of his agents’ findings in an exhaustive investigation of Hillary Clinton’s reliance on her own poorly secured, private email server to conduct her business as secretary of state. Comey understood the importance of making sure Americans knew not just the FBI’s conclusions but also its other pertinent findings — because Clinton is, presumably, just weeks away from becoming the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee. So, even though he concluded “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue a criminal indictment after finding no overriding evidence Clinton intended to endanger classified information, Comey wanted to make sure Americans knew the FBI concluded Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling our nation’s secrets.
How important were the FBI’s complete findings?
Peering through our Time Machine, we can recalibrate the dates and suddenly see what may have happened if Comey had been announcing those identical FBI findings — no indictment but extreme carelessness — at this time last year or a year from today.
It is July 5, 2015: Comey just announced that Clinton wasn’t being indicted but that she was “extremely careless” in handling U.S. top secret, secret and confidential classified info in her secretary of state emails. Also, that some classified information may have been accessed by hostile foreign governments and hackers. Suddenly Vice President Joe Biden is being engulfed in a powerful wave of Democrats pleading with him to run for president. It seems to have a compelling effect on the vice president, even as he is still grieving after the cancer death of his son Beau. Pundits are no longer sure Clinton will even pursue her 2016 run.
It is July 5, 2017: Comey just made his announcement — and the White House is clearly shaken. No wonder — the FBI has just cast calamitous doubt about President Hillary Clinton. Back when she was secretary of state, the FBI just disclosed, Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling classified information on her personal email server. It gets worse — our sitting president may have inadvertently allowed hostile foreign governments and hackers to obtain some national security secrets. Newsbreak: Republicans just announced that they are drafting articles of impeachment of yet another President Clinton.
OK, enough. Let’s turn off our Time Machine and return to July 2016: Thanks to our Time Machine travels, we can see a bit more clearly the overriding importance the FBI director’s patriotically transparent announcement made Tuesday. Beyond the FBI’s finding that this didn’t quite rise to the level of an indictable crime, Comey wanted to make sure we knew what he knew. That:
▪ Hillary Clinton was “extremely careless” in handling classified material on her private email server; and that despite her denials, she did have information that was classified when she sent and received it;
▪ Hostile foreign agents may have hacked her server — and did hack emails of individuals she corresponded with.
▪ And even if the evidence didn’t justify indictment, Comey importantly concluded that “any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position … should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Now we are stuck smack in the middle of 2016 — facing a choice between two indelibly flawed presumptive presidential nominees. Will we choose to be led by the Democrat who has just been shown to have exercised terrible judgment in safeguarding America’s security secrets? Or by the Republican who proves to us every day that he is possessed by terminally failed judgment — that he cannot control his compulsion to blurt any contemptible attack or boast, any exaggeration or lie, any slur or smear or racial/religious/nationality/gender slander.
Donald Trump’s fatal flaws are a truth known to even his Republican endorsers — for they too are trapped in our national nightmare. Washington’s panicky Republicans are attacking their fellow registered Republican, Jim Comey, because he would not put them out of their misery by indicting and defeating their political enemy for them. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a leader with clap-on-clap-off principles, has shamed himself by leading the Grand Old Lynch Mob.
Jim Comey, a man with a strong (U.S.) Constitution, knew he didn’t have the evidence to indict. But he had the courage and patriotism to speak the words we needed to hear.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.