FBI Director James Comey. | FBI.GOV
Hillary Clinton, in a campaign rallying constituencies empowered by the rights revolution that began in the 1960s – including people of color, women, and the LGBT community – has raised the stakes in this presidential election and her efforts have provoked a fierce reaction from law enforcement.
Before James Comey, the FBI chief, unleashed his email bombshell, she was coasting to victory, with everybody wondering what the Donald would do next. Now it’s Hillary that is the focus in the campaign – with her future imperiled by a renewed obsession with the technical rules for handling classified materials.
Meanwhile, the emails released via WikiLeaks are interesting to political junkies and offer chapter and verse on the truth that the projects of rich people and rich corporations get personal attention from people in power. But nobody is making a persuasive case that the favors suggested in the emails were illegal. In fact, an abiding concern for legality is a constant theme in them.
THE LONG VIEW
Clinton is now enduring a full-blown challenge from the criminal justice establishment, which holds the hammer of indictment – and also ability to create the vague innuendo that one may be imminent. Comey’s late October surprise made her the focus of scrutiny in the campaign’s final days – and Clinton must brave this attack. These are Washington tough guys she’s dealing with and if she can keep them at bay, she will have a freer hand not to go down the road her husband did of championing tough-on-crime policies that both Clintons now acknowledge was unfair and promoted mass incarceration.
Hillary’s support of the rights revolution creates conflict with law enforcement most visibly over the question of police violence. Black Lives Matter poses a fundamental challenge to existing methods of policing, and Comey has objected to its assertion that African-American men are routinely murdered by police. In fact, he believes BLM has made patrol officers indecisive and reluctant to do their job.
In contrast, Clinton has conceded that the war on drugs violates the rights of black and brown youth. Criminal justice reform is a key plank that has allowed her to build support among civil libertarians, blacks, and Hispanics – all crucial blocs in the Democratic coalition.
Hence her clash with law enforcement, a fight Comey relishes. For weeks, aides to Former Attorney General Eric Holder warned the FBI would meddle. In Politico on September 11, Riley Roberts, Holder’s former speechwriter, minced no words, damning Comey by charging that “his ‘streak of self-righteousness,’ now essentially unchecked, has made him the most isolated, outspoken, and openly defiant FBI director since Hoover.”
Remember this was weeks before the October email surprise.
With his insider’s perspective, Riley itemized conflicts surrounding Comey, who has “repeatedly injected his views into Executive Branch deliberations” on sentencing reform and “the roots of violence against police officers.” The FBI director “undermined key presidential priorities” on cybersecurity and encryption.
Roberts added, regarding the FBI’s July decision not to file any charges in the email brouhaha, “Most recently, he shattered longstanding precedent by publicly offering his own conclusions about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email.”
Roberts’ apprehensions have been borne out all too well.
After reopening the email case, Comey, on November 1, doubled down on his intervention in the election, releasing details of an investigation completed in 2005 – concerning the pardon Bill Clinton issued in his final days in office to Marc Rich, a billionaire who had moved to Switzerland. In an investigation Comey was a part of, no criminal charges were proffered, but the incident was not a proud moment for the Clintons and never really passed the smell test.
“For the second time in five days,” the Washington Post reported, “the FBI had moved… smack in the middle of partisan fighting over a national election, just days before the vote.”
It’s easy to picture Comey despising the Clintons. A man who believes that laws must be obeyed but deaf to the law’s history of abuse of stigmatized minorities’ liberties, he is doing what Trump failed to do – make Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses the focus of public attention in an election widely viewed as one where the loser will be the candidate that the race turns out to be about. In so doing, Comey is making law enforcement the kingmaker, a role that threatens our liberties.
The FBI’s intervention here is additional evidence that the election of the first woman president has become a watershed moment. With an office handling requests for release of prisoners serving long sentences, Barack Obama has begun commuting them by the hundreds. Hillary has admitted that the ‘90s criminal crackdown has been destructive, so it’s reasonable to assume she’ll stay on the path forged by the current president. She’s also pledged to let states legalize marijuana, handcuffing federal agents who are drug warriors. If the Senate goes Democratic, her appointments to the Supreme Court and federal agencies will sail through. The changes that Obama began will accelerate.
Through his actions, Comey has proven that this prospect is anathema to the FBI. And there is a sense in the media that Comey is succeeding. Hillary is no longer the clear frontrunner but instead locked in a tight race. Trump’s confidence has returned, and he has talked about putting $10 million more into his campaign.
The FBI was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s nemesis, and Obama’s allies are warning that the FBI is trying to kibosh his reforms. It may not be a surprise, but it is certainly alarming. Especially when Trump is the beneficiary of FBI meddling.
The real estate mogul is incompetent, and for federal officials that means he won’t meddle because he doesn’t know how. He favors nightstick justice, and that will make tough law and order cops heroes rather than villains.
In this kind of atmosphere, gay rights are at risk. In all probability, gay bashers would receive slaps on the wrist while flamboyant queers would endure police harassment. Anti-discrimination laws that stop workplace sexual harassment would go unenforced and could even be repealed by a Republican Congress casting itself as a defender of small business. This coalition would cater to parents alarmed by changing gender roles, and schoolteachers would be pressured to observe traditional values.
This election matters, and everyone should do whatever they can over the next several days to help ensure the turnout needed to elect Hillary Clinton (visit hillaryclinton.com/start for details). Our liberties are at stake.