So the November surprise is that the October surprise didn’t count.
That’s not quite true, but captures the dizzying end to the 2016 campaign, which saw James Comey again announce that Hillary Clinton is under criminal investigation nine days before the election, and then exonerate her less than 48 hours before the voting begins.
Which raises the question of whether he should have gone public in the first place, given that the new “evidence”—not reviewed at the time—turned out to be mostly duplicate and personal emails.
It’s not much of a bumper sticker, but I guess Clinton can claim to be the only candidate cleared twice by the FBI.
Comey’s move undercuts Donald Trump’s claim that Clinton’s election could spark a constitutional crisis, but not his overall rhetoric about a culture of corruption. Yet the damage has been done, fueling arguments by Comey’s critics that he unfairly politicized the last stretch of the campaign.
Comey’s Oct. 28 letter to Capitol Hill transformed the campaign, put Clinton on the defensive, energized Trump and had some impact on the polls, which were already tightening. I said at the time that we just didn’t know whether the new cache of emails—which weirdly wound up on Anthony Weiner’s computer, via Huma Abedin—would be incriminating or a nothing-burger.
There’s even a school of thought that Comey’s second letter late Sunday doesn’t help Clinton because it brings the focus back to the email scandal just when she’s trying to make a closing argument.
The Clinton camp is obviously relieved. And once again, we have partisan reactions on both sides.
Trump had been ripping Comey’s July decision not to seek an indictment against Clinton as evidence of a “rigged system.” When the FBI chief made the new inquiry public, Trump praised him for “guts.” Now he is questioning how the bureau could have reviewed 650,000 emails in such a short period of time.
Newt Gingrich, a major Trump ally, says the FBI boss caved: “Comey must be under enormous political pressure to cave like this and announce something he can't possibly know.”
On the other side, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman rips into Comey:
“The election was rigged by James Comey, the director of the F.B.I. His job is to police crime — but instead he used his position to spread innuendo and influence the election. Was he deliberately putting a thumb on the electoral scales, or was he simply bullied by Republican operatives? It doesn’t matter: He abused his office, shamefully.”
Washington Post editorial writer Stephen Stromberg is also critical:
“If you have ever watched a procedural crime drama, you probably recognize the words, ‘the jury will disregard.’ It is the instruction judges give jurors to ignore inadmissible testimony after it has already been offered in open court. Of course the jury, composed of human beings, cannot forget what it has already heard — even if they try. The integrity of the proceedings have already been damaged.”
There’s also chatter about the awkward relationship that Clinton would have with Comey, who serves a fixed 10-year term and can only be removed for cause, if she wins.
For now, as the candidates wrap up their mad dash to far-flung rallies, Comey’s open-and-shut pronouncements are baked into the cake. That is, along with a separate inquiry into the Clinton Foundation, “Access Hollywood,” the sexual misconduct allegations by a dozen women, “basket of deplorables,” and charges by each nominee that the other is unfit for the White House and would lead us into war.
An incredible melodrama, with the presidency at stake. Oh, and control of the Senate as well. The curtain is finally coming down on this one.
Until Wednesday, when the media will be consumed by sound and fury over the outcome of the election and the prospects for the 45th president—whoever he or she may be.