After months of Trump Tweets(TM), conspiracy theories, commentary from Bernie Bros, and general political mayhem, the FBI has finally weighed in on Hillary Clinton's email issue, and the results... weren't good for anyone, honestly. The agency recommended against indictment (whomp whomp, haters), but it also castigated Secretary Clinton for her "careless" management of classified information on a private server (awkward, lovers).
It's a sort of bizarre draw, and it's one that will overshadow her campaign. Secretary Clinton just can't seem to catch a break, as perhaps evidenced by Twitter's immediate response to the news: #PeopleShouldBeIndictedFor and #MoreTrustedThanHillary. In a presidential race between the Tangerine Menace and a highly qualified, experienced, focused candidate who happens to be a woman, the result should be simple, but it's not.
As always, there's a West Wing episode for this: "Welcome to Wherever You Are," in which Toby Ziegler is threatened with multiple indictments related to his decision to leak top secret information, and he rails against the prosecutor, arguing that it will sink the ongoing presidential campaign. It's a moment of fascinating tension, as it's quite reasonable to push forward with an investigation and prosecution regardless as to the timing, but on the other hand, it's a bit troubling that a single indictment of someone proximally related to a campaign could destroy it.
When the FBI investigation against Secretary Clinton kicked into gear, it was obvious to everyone, from salivating haters to concerned supporters, that this was going to have an impact on the election. It's in the public interest to find out if someone should be charged with a serious offense before that person is elected to the White House, but the mere fact of an investigation can become political poison. Haters were hoping for a death blow, lovers were hoping for exoneration, and neither side got what they wanted.
Here's to the haters
So here's what we do know: Secretary Clinton has been subjected to numerous investigations over the course of her political career, which some might argue is evidence that she's constantly up to shady dealings. Or one could argue that it's evidence she's being persecuted by way of her association with her husband, because no matter how much money the right throws at hounding her (remember the myriad Benghazi investigations that turned up no wrongdoing?), it can't succeed in actually slapping any charges on her.
Lots of people like to accuse Secretary Clinton of being corrupt, but if she is, she's doing a really terrible job of it. Corrupt officials ought to be able to keep themselves out of the hot seat, and that's where she constantly ends up.
It's not because she's doing something wrong. It's for one simple reason: Secretary Clinton is a woman, and people like to drag women down. As a Clinton, she's twice the target, because there's a great deal of existing hatred for the Clintons. People can grasp at straws all they want, but in the end, they're not going to find her guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors for the simple reason that she's... not guilty.
Already, the GOP is making war on the FBI. FBI Director James Comey testified in Congress this morning, called up on the carpet like a kid who broke the garage window with a baseball. There's only one reason for that. It's not that the GOP wants an accounting of how the investigation was conducted and who was involved, or even an explanation of the rationale behind the FBI's recommendation. Congress pretty clearly wants to punish Director Comey for not doing what they wanted him to do, and they also want to keep the email situation in the public eye for as long as possible.
Obviously the GOP wants to see Secretary Clinton indicted. So do a lot of Bernie or Bust supporters, who have persisted in trying to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Benghazi, the email server, and any number of other things. So does Jill Stein, who is bound and determined to attempt to make herself relevant despite the fact that virtually no one knows her name.
Given that the FBI carefully weighed the information they gathered and announced that they were against indictment without consulting with other government agencies, it's safe to say that the agency's opinion was pretty unbiased. Had evidence supported indictment, the agency would have said so. While the Department of Justice actually makes the ultimate call on this one, it's likely that they will follow the FBI's lead, though they will experience tremendous public pressure to do the opposite.
That said, the FBI commented that though Secretary Clinton engaged in poor security practices, there wasn't sufficient information to successfully prosecute a case. Is that fair? I leave that to you to decide, but I'd note that similar practices when it comes to decisions about prosecutions also exist on the civilian level: When there's not enough information to prosecute, it's irresponsible to waste public resources pursuing a case. It doesn't, however, always mean that someone isn't guilty.
Here's to the lovers
But this isn't necessarily a victory for Secretary Clinton's supporters. As the FBI Director explained, there may be insufficient cause for charges, but there's definitely cause for concern.
Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.
The FBI argues, and I concur, that classified information should be stored in a secure location, and Secretary Clinton's network of servers and devices was not secure. That means that she may have created needless national security risks, and she should be held accountable for that. The agency also raised concerns about the security culture at State under her tenure.
It would be interesting to see an audit of the State Department under Secretary Kerry, because I suspect some of the systemic problems uncovered would still be extant. Given the fact that the government as a whole uses extremely antiquated systems (we still run nuclear weapons systems on floppy disks), many of those systems are undoubtedly vulnerable to security threats, and that should be cause for concern.
The fact that the FBI made a point of commenting about her security practices demonstrates that while it didn't feel there was sufficient information to convict, it did think there was sufficient information to call her out. In a way, that's a sharp testimony to the nonpartisan nature of this investigation.
The FBI was under no obligation to go into detail about the specifics of how, when, and where it conducted its investigation. Instead, the agency provided plain and clear information about what it did, and while it indicated that she wasn't guilty of anything under federal law, it did still feel that the situation merited a public rebuke — regardless as to what it might cost her campaign.
In doing so, the FBI opened Secretary Clinton up to even more speculation and criticism about the email situation. Charges of "corruption" will undoubtedly continue to ring, with people suggesting that she evaded accountability via her connections. Trump and others will continue to hound her over the email servers (remember when Bernie turned around on his "enough about the emails" statement?).
In coming weeks, we're going to see what the FBI's decision really means for Hillary Clinton, and I strongly suspect it's not good.
Photo: Marc Nozell/Creative Commons