Back in March, when Bill Clinton uttered some intemperate remarks about Barack Obama, I warned that the aspiring First Gentleman was “doing Hillary no favors …. It’s time to muzzle the Big Dog before he makes news again.”
Too late. He has made news again.
And yet again I have to wonder, what is wrong with this guy? Is he so dotty at age 69, and are his social filters so frayed, that he can no longer grasp the concept of impropriety? Or is this just Bill being Bill, doing what he has always done, handing unnecessary ammo to the enemy?
I’m referring, of course, to his impulsive walk last week across an Arizona airport tarmac, to initiate a chat with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Who just so happens to be tasked with making the final call on the FBI’s criminal investigation of Bill’s spouse. A rational political animal would’ve said to himself, “If I go over there and talk her up, about grandkids or anything else, it’s gonna look bad, it’s gonna give Trump and the Republicans an excuse to say that fix is in.” But Bill clearly failed to conduct that selfie conversation.
And today, Republicans led by Donald Trump will indeed say that the fix was in — because FBI chief James Comey announced this morning that the FBI will not recommend criminal charges in its probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. In Comey’s words, there was no evidence of intentional wrongdoing, and therefore “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” Comey said the case now goes to the Justice Department — to Lynch — for the final say on any “prosecutive decision.”
Anyway, last week, Bill climbed onto Lynch’s idling plane. She reportedly indulged his social call — albeit with witnesses, to ensure that there would be no discussion of the FBI case. Word was, she didn’t want to kick him off the plane because, after all, he’s a guy with a history of heart problems — he also made her a U.S. attorney in 1999 — and it was at least 100 degrees on that Arizona tarmac.
And since Bill had no clue about the appearance of impropriety, it was left to Lynch to mop up. As news of Bill’s visit crested on the cusp of the holiday weekend, she was stuck defending herself — and the integrity of the investigation. On Friday she said: “I certainly wouldn’t do it again, because I think it has cast this shadow …. It’s important to make it clear that that meeting with President Clinton does not have a bearing on how this matter will be reviewed and resolved.”
This is what’s known in tennis as an unforced error. Chalk it up as Bill’s umpteenth. The Clintons have long elevated the unforced error to an art form, and their opponents have long been grateful. Sure enough, Donald Trump took full advantage this weekend on Twitter:
Crooked Hillary Clinton knew that her husband wanted to meet with the U.S.A.G. to work out a deal. The system is totally rigged & corrupt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 3, 2016
Granted, Trump is a serial liar and a master of the shameless overreach. There’s no evidence whatsoever that Hillary knew in advance what Bill was up or that she tacitly approved. But the tarmac meeting played beautifully into Trump’s small hands, affording him a fresh opportunity to tap public distrust of the Clintons. Now that the FBI has decided not to recommend criminal charges (and Lynch has pledged to abide by whatever the FBI recommended), Trump will claim that the process was “totally rigged.” With Bill’s chat with Lynch as Exhibit A.
Leave it to Bill to crash the news cycle at a time when Trump’s flaws are so manifest. Trump and his minuscule band of staffers (minuscule in size, thanks to the number of people who keep quitting) is so incompetent that it spent the holiday weekend trying to defend/explain its retweeting of a graphic that used the Jewish Star of David to paint Hillary as a money-grubber. Trump says it was just a sheriff’s star — you know, like in the Old West — and that makes me rethink the Holocaust. Perhaps Hitler’s real aim was to deputize six million people.)
So great job, Bill. Way to get everyone talking about the downside of the Clinton brand, when we all should be focused on the GOP’s proto-fascist Keystone Cops. And every time he does something like this, I hear echoes. I hear Chris Matthews, wondering aloud: “Is Bill Clinton going to be a problem in this campaign? is he going to behave himself, not cause a publicity that gets her embarrassed?”
That was Matthews on his cable show, way back in 2007. Talking about the impending Hillary campaign of 2008.
And I still hear a Democratic strategist, talking to me off the record, wishing fervently that Bill could be “put in a cage somewhere with a blanket thrown over it.” She said that to me in 2003.
Did you happen to see the New York Times story this weekend, about what Hillary would do as president in the first 100 days? The third paragraph began: “Former President Bill Clinton would keep a low public profile, granting few interviews and avoiding any moves that could create headaches for his wife…”
If only. But if past is prologue, don’t hold your breath.