Gregg Jarrett: FBI reopens email investigation. Is a Clinton presidency doomed?

If past is prologue, and it usually is, then a Hillary Clinton presidency may be engulfed and disabled by scandal.

Make that plural --scandals.  As a consequence, she is likely to accomplish little on behalf of the American people.  In other words, her presidency could be dead on arrival the moment she is sworn into office. 

How do we know this?  First, the FBI announced Friday that it is reopening its criminal investigation of Clinton’s personal email server.

FBI Director James Comey did not give details except to convey that, in connection with an unrelated case, new evidence had been uncovered.  The Director said his agency would “review these new emails to determine whether they contain classified information.”

This is a stunning new development. It will surely do enormous damage to Clinton’s chances of winning the office she has long coveted.  But if she is elected notwithstanding, the FBI investigation itself will hobble her presidency from the outset.  The cloud of distrust and scandal that already hovers over Clinton could grow exponentially. 

Second, the powerful chairman of a congressional committee and many others on Capitol Hill are vowing to pursue their investigations of wrongdoing by Clinton. These are the very people with whom the new president must work to accomplish anything meaningful on behalf of Americans who are yearning for something other than gridlock in Washington.

But the WikiLeaks emails are like gasoline on a fire. Clinton doesn’t deny their authenticity.  And every day begets yet another damning revelation of misdeeds and concomitant cover-ups.  Even Clinton’s own aides and allies express bewilderment over her chronic mistakes.  Some are appalled.      

Why would Clinton behave with such reckless abandon when so much is at stake? Because Clinton seems addicted to misbehavior, yet never recognizing it as such.

As pointed out in my last column, she routinely breaches the bounds of propriety.  She steps right up to the line of illegality and dangles her foot over it, unconscious or uncaring of the repercussions.

If her activities are not illegal, they are surely unethical.  By her own actions, she has transformed herself into the poster child for moral turpitude.  And there is no reason to believe she will suddenly stop upon assuming the nation’s highest office, should she win the election.  Indeed, sitting in the Oval Office may only serve to embolden her to push the envelope of opprobrium even further.  

Let’s review.  She stands accused of deliberately evading public disclosure laws by hiding emails on a private server, then lying about it.  She is suspected of using her position as Secretary of State to confer benefits in exchange for money from foreign donors (notoriously called “pay-for-play”).  It looks like she and her husband leveraged their charity foundation to enriched themselves personally to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

And those are just her recent shenanigans.  Illegality?  Graft?  Corruption?  Malfeasance?  Pick your favorite noun.

Investigations Into What?

Clinton did not tell the truth in several of her statements, according to FBI Director James Comey. The Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, has sent an official referral to the FBI to open an investigation into whether Clinton perjured herself in her sworn testimony before Congress when she insisted she did not send or receive anything marked classified via her private emails.  That’s just one of her alleged deceptions.

Under Title 18, Section 162 of the federal code, a perjury conviction carries up to 5 years in prison.  So the matter of lying to Congress is not just a pesky issue that will vanish after November 8th.  Rep. Chaffetz is determined to pursue it and so are many of his colleagues.  But that’s not all.

Chaffetz is now curious about whether the FBI’s decision not to recommend criminal prosecution of Clinton for mishandling classified documents was swayed  by the $ 675,000 given by a close Clinton ally to the wife of the FBI official overseeing the investigation.  It smacks of illegal influence-peddling.

And what about the claim of an FBI agent that Clinton aide Patrick Kennedy tried to declassify and bury one of Clinton’s legally toxic documents… in a quid pro quo favor for the Bureau?  That smacks of obstruction of justice.  Again, Chaffetz wants to know.  And so does Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who is promising to dig into the suspicious offer.

There is also the matter of whether Clinton’s wholesale deletion of thousands of emails after Congress had issued a subpoena for them constitutes “destruction of evidence” which is also a crime.  How did that happen?  The people who seem to know are invoking the 5th Amendment against self-incrimination.  More immunity deals might loosen lips. 

Numerous reports indicate that wealthy donors to Clinton’s foundation secured special access to her as Secretary of State.  This, too, may be part of the upcoming congressional investigation.  It is against the law for a public official to use his or her position to confer benefits in exchange for money.  Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking GOP senator, is demanding answers.

The Big-Bucks Gravy Train

There are multiple reports that the FBI has opened a criminal investigation into potential corruption within the Clinton Foundation.  Newly leaked emails show that charity official Doug Band, while raising money for the foundation, also steered millions of dollars to Bill Clinton.  Quite the cozy relationship.  However, if the foundation was not operating strictly as a charity under the laws governing non-profit groups, it could be deemed an illegal enterprise.  In other words, criminal fraud.

How much money did the former president pocket?  One Band email is especially revealing : “President Clinton’s business arrangements have yielded more than $ 30 million for him personally, with $ 66 million to be paid out over the next nine years should he chose to continue with the current engagements.”

The boat-loads of cash came from Clinton foundation donors --the same donors who had business before Clinton's State Department and some of whom  appear to have received benefits therefrom.  For example, Hillary helped UBS avoid the IRS, and then Bill got paid $ 1.5 million dollars.  Thereafter, their foundation received a ten-fold increase in donations.  If that was a reward for Hillary’s machinations, then it constitutes bribery under federal law, 18 U.S.C., section 201.

When asked recently to explain what appears to be blatant double dealing and the stench of pay-for-play, the Clinton campaign did not really deny it, but simply said the charity did wonderful work.  It certainly did --it did wonderful work enriching the Clintons’ bank account.

If you ever wondered how Bill and Hillary got so outrageously rich, Band's emails make explicit the compelling and incriminating evidence the Clintons used their foundation for personal profit.  It's a prosecutor's dream.  A "smoking gun" document if ever there was one.

While Bill has stayed mum on the subject, Chelsea Clinton expressed some dismay that Band was using the foundation to “hustle business”, but I doubt she was objecting to her future inheritance.  After all, why derail the “gravy train” when it’s running on a slick track at high speed?

More than 50 House Republicans have urged the Department of Justice to appoint a “special prosecutor” to investigate the Clinton Foundation.  Yeah, fat chance.  The objectivity of Attorney General Loretta Lynch was shattered when she hung out with Bill on her plane for a half hour just before she decided there would be no criminal prosecution of Hillary.  And if she becomes president, there is zero Clinton’s newly appointed A-G will decide to investigate the new boss.  No one wants to become the next Archibald Cox.  (See “Saturday Night Massacre”.)

Watergate Redux

Speaking of Watergate, after Richard Nixon fired Cox, Congress began to toy with the notion of creating a special prosecutor who was not controlled by the executive branch which he or she was investigating.  You know, conflict of interest and all that.  Thus, the Independent Counsel Act was enacted.  This is a nifty legal device which could be employed to investigate Clinton by circumventing DOJ.

Yes, the law has expired.  But it could be reauthorized immediately by Congress since the full language of the statute still exists.  It was resurrected once before, so it can be done again.  Coincidentally, the most famous Independent Counsel, Kenneth Starr, composed a report that led to the impeachment of… yes… Bill Clinton.  (See “blue dress”.)

Of course, the President must sign the bill into law.  But would Obama now, or Clinton later, dare to veto legislation meant to curb the abuses of power?  How could that be justified?  Think of the political backlash.

Much can be learned from Nixon’s demise.  He aided and abetted crimes, lied and obstructed justice.  In the end, it caught up with him and he resigned in disgrace.  The only American president to do so.

At the time, a young Hillary Rodham was serving as a junior member of the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry staff which was investigating Nixon and Watergate.  Given all that has happened and all she has done, one wonders if she learned anything from that experience.

She might have learned how power corrupts.  And yet, here we are.

She might also have learned that scandals tend to disable presidents.  Since it is likely that Clinton has been thinking (or dreaming) of becoming president for a very long time, why would she engage in such risky and aberrant behavior?  It is truly confounding.

Hillary Clinton may well end up assuming the presidency.  But winning an election is different than the hard business of governing.  That’s what Nixon learned after his landslide victory over Sen. George McGovern in 1972.

Nixon viewed his re-election as an overwhelming mandate.  Yet, the scandal of Watergate soon engulfed him.  It so consumed his presidency and the public’s perception of him, that a weakened Nixon lost the ability to work with Congress.  Very little legislation was accomplished for the benefit of the American people.

Nixon squandered the public’s trust and good will…by his own inexplicable actions.  Maybe it was the intoxicating influence of high office.  Or maybe it was simply his own inner demons.

But Americans have reason to worry that a President Hillary Clinton could suffer a similar and tragic fate.