In just four days the U.S presidential election will be decided, and the course of American history will be altered for better or for worse. However, once again media coverage has circulated back to an issue that Democrats have been attempting to push into moratorium for many months: Hillary Clinton’s emails. In what has been a sharp and vibrant revival of a beaten-to-death topic of discussion, FBI director James Comey once again took center stage of the political arena at Clinton’s expense.
This past Friday, after early voting had already begun in many swing states, the FBI director released two emails, one to ranking members of Congress and the second to FBI staff, detailing the public reopening of a long-term investigation of Clinton’s classified email server and affiliated email accounts.
This is not the first time Comey has broken with tradition in the case of Clinton’s emails, the investigation was made public back in July through press conferences and multiple public congressional testimonies. Comey condemned Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless” despite advising the Justice Department not to bring charges against her due to insufficient evidence of intent.
For reference, here is a timeline of the events: http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/timeline-hillary-clintons-email-saga/story?id=29442707
In the email to Congress, Comey revealed that new evidence had been uncovered, specifically an email server used by one of Clinton’s aids, Ms. Abedin. The FBI will investigate these emails by removing duplicates that had already been processed this summer and then processing any new emails to determine whether or not they contain classified information.
This process will include sending the newfound emails, if there are any, to various government agencies for evaluation; it will undoubtedly take longer than 10 days to do so in a thorough manner. This begs the question: with a long, comprehensive, and uncertain investigation pending, why did Comey feel it was appropriate to announce this development to the public right before November 8th?
Comey addressed this concern in his email to FBI employees when he stated, “of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed.”
It seems that Comey felt like he was already in too deep. It’s normally not the responsibility of an FBI director to present an investigation like this to the public, and many have regarded his actions as inappropriate, or even prejudicial, after he leveled criticism at Clinton without recommending prosecution. Former Attorney General Eric Holder had this to say about Comey’s actions, that his decision, “violated long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition… because of his decision to comment on this development before sufficient facts were known, the public has faced a torrent of conspiracy theories and misrepresentations.”
Comey justified his actions further by offering the following: “I… think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”
At the moment, it seems as if by announcing the reopening of the investigation to the American people, Comey has been far more misleading than if he had simply remained impartially silent. Although Comey always intended to remain impartial and nonpartisan, saying in a talk earlier this year that he intended, “ensure that we (the FBI) remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.” However, in his dedication to the practice of transparency, he overstepped his bounds, and that mistake has brought us to where we are.
The reality is that the implications of this investigation are a problem to be confronted after the election, a result that will be impactful during another presidency. By announcing this development, which, lets remember, may be entirely inconsequential, Comey has made it a problem for this election cycle, one that will undoubtedly affect polling in the next week.
The effects of the announcement are still being determined: as of this weekend, according to FiveThiryEight polling, “Clinton’s popular vote lead is down to 4.7 percentage points in our forecast, as compared with 5.7 percentage points on Friday and 7.1 percentage points two weeks ago. And Trump’s chances of winning are 24 percent in the polls-only model, up from 19 percent on Friday and 12 percent two weeks ago. Trump’s chances are 26 percent in the polls-plus model, which is converging with polls-only.”
These polling numbers could be a result of the race tightening naturally, but Comey’s intervention into the political discourse, whether or not it has a tangible effect, is still a violation in and of itself. First, it is important that the director of the FBI not take a stance in politics because the doctrine of investigative bureaus ought to be the law, not a partisan position. Second, the investigation has not been completed, and the announcement of its reopening elicits an emotional response among voters of concern, distrust, and fear which may be altogether unwarranted. Third, imagine the danger of having a secret organization which is politically involved; the mandate of the FBI is to pursue justice, not a partisan agenda.
The full effects of Comey’s intercession into this election may not have revealed themselves in polling yet, but what we can be sure of is that his decision to make Clinton’s email case public was a large-scale mistake for the bureau. The case of the email server should have been opened, shut, and reopened independent of the election, and any criticism should have been absorbed in order to preserve the rules of investigation that have been refined over years to prevent this problem from happening in the first place.