There’s an old saying that Republicans never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Their latest laughable mishap fits the profile perfectly.
But before we delve into the details of Comeygate – that would be James Comey, the FBI director who has refused to lock Hillary Clinton in leg irons – I want to talk about what happened in 1998, because it exquisitely foreshadowed this week’s Republican behavior.
As those of you old enough will remember, the first President Clinton was caught canoodling with an intern after denying he had done so. With midterm elections looming, Republicans could have easily leveraged that political gift by crafting a campaign message about moral turpitude in the White House; instead, they conflated the scandal into a constitutional crisis by pushing for Clinton’s impeachment. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the charge (despite conducting his own extramarital affair at the time), predicted in October that the impeachment drive would rally the voters and result in a net Republican gain of 40 House seats.
D’oh! Republicans suffered a net loss of five seats. Within weeks of the election, Newt resigned. The lesson – which was obvious to everyone, except denizens of the Republican bubble – was that Americans didn’t believe that Bill’s aberrant behavior warranted his removal. So they punished Republicans for going too far.
But going too far is what Republicans do. They never learn their lesson. They have no filters. When they’re given a political gift – like Hillary Clinton’s careless use of a private email server – they immediately take it to Def Con 1. Like yesterday, when they hauled Comey up to Capitol Hill and tried to slime him as a Clinton lackey who supposedly conspired with Democrats to let her off the hook. Now they want an investigation of the Comey investigation. Actually, five investigations. Make way for the new Benghazi.
By the way, this is the same James Comey who once served as Republican counsel on the anti-Clinton Whitewater investigation. Who was a longtime registered Republican. Who donated money to the McCain and Romney campaigns. Who was appointed deputy attorney general by George W. Bush. And who – at least until he recommended that Hillary not be prosecuted – was widely lauded by the GOP as a stand-up guy and straight shooter.
Just last month, on Fox News, House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz lavished the FBI director with praise. Chaffetz called Comey “a man of integrity and honesty” who was clearly “the definitive person to make a determination or recommendation” on Hillary. But for the apparent sin of making the “wrong” recommendation, Comey had to endure a day of idiocy in front of Chaffetz’s committee.
The gist of the hearing can be found in one exchange. A Florida Republican, John Mica, insisted that there was “something fishy” about Comey’s decision not to recommend prosecution, insinuating that there was a Justice-White House-FBI conspiracy to protect Hillary. Comey sliced the guy to ribbons:
“Look me in the eye and listen to what I’m about to say. I did not coordinate that with anyone. The White House, the Department of Justice, nobody outside the FBI family had any idea what I was about to (do). I say that under oath, I stand by that. There was no coordination. There was an insinuation in what you were saying…I don’t mean to get strong in responding, but I want to make sure I was definitive about that.”
He also sought to tutor the panel’s bloviating non-lawyers:
“In our system of law, there’s a thing called mens rea. This Latin phrase, mens rea, means ‘what were you thinking?’ We don’t want to put people in jail unless we prove that they knew they were doing something they shouldn’t do. That is the characteristic of all the prosecutions involving mishandling of classified information….I see evidence of great carelessness, but I do not see evidence that is sufficient to establish that Secretary Clinton or those with whom she was corresponding both talked about classified information on email and knew when they did it they were doing something that was against the law. So given that assessment of the facts, my understanding of the law, my conclusion was and remains – No reasonable prosecutor would bring this case.”
And that’s basically how the day went. Comey didn’t budge an inch. Did the Republicans actually think he would? What is wrong with the air inside their bubble, anyway? Somehow they believed that Comey would break down, like a witness on the old “Perry Mason” TV show, and start wailing “Stop, I can’t take it anymore! She’s guilty!”
Comey, by declaring on Tuesday (in a public statement that, by itself, was highly unusual) that Clinton had been “extremely careless,” had already given Republicans a political gift. Which they quickly squandered by turning on Comey – aided, of course, by their clownish presidential nominee, who assailed Comey as a cog in a “rigged system.”
In the words of Republican national security advisor John Noonan, “This should have been a two-foot putt. But Republicans never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” There you have it. The old saying is new again.
But I prefer to quote something that a Republican strategist told me in October 1998, when his party was hurtling toward its impeachment overreach. (I save my old notes for a reason, and this is why.) The strategist lamented: “Too often we’re like kids in a candy store. We see treats that we like and by the time we realize we’ve eaten too much, we’re on the floor holding our stomachs.”
And leave it to Trump to muck up the anti-Hillary message in his inimitable fashion. He met yesterday with Senate Republicans and proceeded to regale them with insults (vulnerable incumbent Mark Kirk is a loser) and ignorance:
He said Hispanics love him (87 percent of Hispanics view him unfavorably). He said there are 12 articles in the U.S. Constitution (there are 7). He told Senator Jeff Flake, a frequent critic, that Flake will lose his re-election race this year (Flake informed Trump that he’s not on the ballot this year). And he said he’ll win Illinois in November (Clinton is projected to beat Trump in deep-blue Illinois by at least 18 points; Illinois hasn’t gone Republican since 1988).
Just another day in Trumplandia.