Bill Clinton? Well yes, said Bill Maher last night on his HBO talk show Real Time, who traces the doom of James Comey to a tarmac meeting with Loretta Lynch eleven months ago. The Hill’s Joe Concha reports on Maher’s analysis, in which the comedian blames the former president for creating the appearance of corruption that doomed his wife’s campaign to return them both to the White House:
Bill Maher made the argument on HBO’s “Real Time” that “a lot of” the reason behind James Comey’s firing by President Trump on Tuesday was “because of Bill Clinton.”Maher referenced the infamous meeting on a Phoenix tarmac in June of 2016 between the former president and Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The meeting occurred just days before Comey announced his decision not to indict Hillary Clinton over her handling State Department emails on a private server.“Bill Clinton, once again, f***d up his wife’s life. If Bill Clinton hadn’t walked on Loretta Lynch’s plane, then she would have been making the statement instead of Comey,” said Maher on Friday night.
That may be true, but there’s not much evidence that the tarmac meeting on its own had any impact on the race. Hillary’s polling didn’t take a dive after either the meeting or Comey’s July 5th statement, and in fact she was soaring in national polls the very next month after the conventions. One could make an argument that Bill’s tête-a-tête with Lynch somehow created the distrust that eventually eroded her standing with the American public, but one would have to ignore more than twenty years of data showing just how unlikable Hillary is when she’s in the national spotlight.
Besides, Maher’s counterfactual indulges some pretty hefty blame-throwing. Yes, Bill compromised Lynch with this meeting and forced Comey’s hand (or at least Comey thought it did), which led to all sorts of unpleasant outcomes. But it was Hillary Clinton who hid a private e-mail server in her Chappaqua bathroom, Hillary Clinton who decided to subvert legitimate Congressional and judicial oversight of the State Department and violate the Federal Records Act by hiding her official communications, and Hillary Clinton who allowed highly classified material to be transmitted through unsecured and unauthorized channels. Without that decision, Bill would have been fine discussing the grandchild with Lynch on that tarmac in Phoenix.
Let’s not kid ourselves here. If the tarmac meeting set the stage for Hillary’s downfall, it’s because Hillary was the stage director, the playwright, and the producer.
However, Maher’s correct about that tarmac meeting being the inflection point for the end of Comey’s career. As I wrote in my column for The Fiscal Times this week, without that meeting, Comey has no reason to go public — either in June or in October:
When The New York Times broke the news about Hillary Clinton’s secret e-mail server in February 2015, it immediately raised issues about conflicts of interest with the current administration. Clinton was hiding those e-mails while serving as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State and was about to become his party’s frontrunner to replace him in the White House. Calls started early for a special counsel to conduct the investigation, but Obama and Lynch refused to accommodate them.
Even after the news of Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton in Phoenix broke, Lynch not only dismissed calls for a special counsel, she refused to fully recuse herself from any decision to prosecute. Lynch promised to accept whatever recommendation came from the FBI – a point which partially rebuts Rosenstein’s conclusions – but left herself in charge of the overall decision. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice made that clear immediately afterward. “She’s the head of the department,” Melanie Newman noted, “and with that comes ultimate responsibility for any decision.”
At that point, a special prosecutor should have been appointed to relieve the political appointees of any input into the potential pursuit of criminal charges. Given Comey’s description of the findings of that investigation – especially with the grossly negligent handling of highly classified material by Clinton and her team – there is good reason for a special counsel to review the case again, independent of both the Obama and Trump administrations. Had a special counsel been appointed at the time, the career of a dedicated but perhaps misguided public servant might not have been ended this week.
By the way, Maher does leave us with another counterfactual we should at least consider, regarding Donald Trump’s rapid terminations of key national-security officeholders — an acting Attorney General, the national-security adviser, and now the FBI director. “Can you imagine what the Republicans would be saying if Hillary was doing this?” Maher asked. “The articles of impeachment would be tattooed on Roger Stone’s back.” Maher’s correct that the Republicans on Capitol Hill would be outraged, but let’s not also ignore the fact that Democrats would be circling the wagons too … and the rest of America would largely shrug, as they’re doing now.
Here’s the whole segment, and remember that some language is not safe for work: