Hillary Clinton is darn lucky that the hapless Republicans have shackled themselves to Donald Trump. Because a talented candidate with solid credentials, ample funds, and a united party would be well-positioned to ride her email issue all the way to the White House.
Even though Clinton is legally off the hook, FBI director James Comey has gifted the GOP a bounty of sound bites that are tailor-made for talking points and TV ads (bingo). Clinton’s big pitch is that she’s well-seasoned to take the reins on day one, and well-experienced to guide America through perilous times — but the top federal cop stated on camera that she and her State Department colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Comey said that some topics “were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received” via her private email account. (She had insisted, in March ’15, that she “did not email any classified material to anyone.”) Comey said that “any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position … should have known that an unclassified [email] system was no place for that conversation.” He said that “all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at departments and agencies of the U.S government — or even with a commercial service like Gmail.”
And he said: “Hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account …. We assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”
The autumn debate questions write themselves. Such as, “Why should voters entrust their nation to someone who the FBI found to be ‘extremely careless’ with classified information?” Such as, “Hostile actors may have hacked your email. Doesn’t that undercut your fitness for the presidency?”
In other words, the court of public opinion will remain in session. Just imagine what a sane and qualified Republican candidate could do with that material, prosecuting Clinton in the political realm.
Alas, the GOP is stuck with Trump — whose impulse is always to overreach. This morning, he summarily insisted that Hillary “is sooooo guilty” (legal experts who actually know the law say there’s no criminal case), and that she would’ve been indicted if the system wasn’t “rigged” (Comey is a Republican, originally a Bush appointee, who gave money to John McCain and Mitt Romney).
His other big impulse is to muddy his message by riffing idiotically.
On the stump last night, he went off on a tangent about Saddam Hussein (huh?!), declaring that Saddam wasn’t all bad. Saddam killed terrorists and “we will be like that.” Yeesh. The longstanding Republican mantra is that the world is safer without Saddam. In a moment when all Republicans should be massing for a sustained attack on Clinton’s carelessness, Republicans are freaked that their own nominee wants us to “be like” Saddam Hussein. Paul Ryan was compelled last night to contradict Trump and insist that Saddam was “one of the 20th century’s most evil people,” and Team Hillary, hunkered in its bunker on the email issue, gleefully pounced: “Trump’s praise for brutal strongmen seemingly knows no bounds.”
Bottom line: This election will not be a referendum on Clinton. It will be a choice between Clinton and Trump — a choice that requires the voter to put them in proper perspective. One candidate was “extremely careless” with emails. The other candidate is so careless that he repeatedly draws fake information from white supremacist websites; so careless with the lives of small businesspeople that he refuses to pay the money they are owed; so careless with his ethics (such as they are) that he lures people to a fake university; so careless on national security that he advocates the weakening of NATO and the spread of nuclear weapons in Asia; so careless in his remarks about women and Hispanics that he’s on track to get slaughtered by both constituencies; so careless in his policy pronouncements that he can’t keep straight what he wants to do (or not do) about banning Muslims from America.
One other thing: Elections are won and lost at the grassroots, and Clinton is light years ahead of Trump and the GOP in the states that matter most. (The conservative press is well aware of this.) The odds are strong that the vaunted Obama voter registration and turnout machine, now bequeathed to the Clinton camp, will stoke support from millions of voters who will view the email issue as a distant memory — and view Trump as a clear and present danger.
She’d better hope so.