On Saturday afternoon, just a few hours after her sitdown with the feds ended, a CNN producer tweeted this:
Sources tell CNN's Evan Perez: expectation is that there will be announcement of no charges in Clinton email probe w/in next two weeks or so
— Los Angeles Lawyer (@AnLALawyer) July 2, 2016
The timing of that leak was curious. How could anyone in the know have a sense so soon after speaking with her whether charges would be brought or not? The FBI had three and a half hours’ worth of answers about the evidence against her to process. Her statements would inevitably be tested against what other witnesses had told them. Superiors within the Bureau would need to be consulted. And it was a holiday weekend! There’s no way an investigation as important and complicated as this would point towards closure so soon after the key witness was interrogated.
Unless, that is, the interview was a formality. If the decision had already been made not to charge Hillary, subject to a final interview designed to dot some I’s and cross some T’s and give her one last chance to incriminate herself, then CNN’s sources would be well positioned to leak on Saturday afternoon. Maybe all the feds really wanted from the interview was a splashy bit of news designed to show the public that they had done their due diligence and conducted a “real” investigation, replete with an interrogation of Hillary Clinton, before handing her her “get out of jail free” card. And now it occurs to me: If it’s true that the decision not to charge her had already been made by the time she sat for her interview, maybe word about the decision had gotten back to Bill Clinton before he decided to visit Loretta Lynch on her plane. Knowing that Hillary was off scot-free wouldn’t affect the appearance of impropriety created by Bill huddling with Lynch but it might help explain why he would do something so boneheaded. If he knew for a fact that Hillary had already been cleared and that the investigation was over, he might have dropped his guard about how it would look to the public if he met with Lynch. What’s the harm in it? She’s already off the hook, right?
Another curious bit of timing: Obama’s appearance at Hillary’s rally today in North Carolina was announced last Wednesday, just two days after the Clinton/Lynch meeting on the tarmac in Phoenix. That was another curious bit of timing. Obama campaigning publicly with someone who’s being investigated by his own DOJ would have been egregiously inappropriate. There was no reason for O to hit the trail for her while an investigation was pending; he could have held off until the convention while waiting for Jim Comey and the FBI to issue their recommendation. The fact that he scheduled the rally when he did and announced it days in advance suggests that Obama already knew that it would be wrapped up by today and that the outcome would be favorable to his party. Either that or O announced the rally as a way to nudge Comey and his deputies that the investigation had better be wrapped up by today. Letting his boss’s boss walk out onstage next to Hillary when she’s in legal limbo wouldn’t have made Comey any friends inside the White House.
In fact, the more I think about it, having watched that hostage-video performance that Comey put on this morning, the more I wonder if he timed this the way he did in order to maximize the political pain to Obama and Hillary as much as he could. Go watch his statement yourself. He’s palpably uncomfortable. He goes out of his way to note the things Clinton did wrong — top-secret e-mails on the server, a culture of lax security within the State Department, “extremely careless” handling of state secrets by her and her staff. All of that speaks directly to her competence as president and Comey knows it. He wasn’t going to let her walk without damaging her politically. In fact, he even winked at the double standard involved in choosing not to prosecute her with this passage at the very end:
To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.
He spent 90 percent of his remarks making the case for why she’s guilty before the twist ending that no charges would be recommended. The presser felt like a 10-page suicide note that ends with “But on second thought, I’m not going to kill myself.” Comey may have (and should have) resented the political pressure he was under to clear Clinton, especially now that Lynch had essentially punted the decision to him alone to make, and chose to do everything he could to make Clinton and Obama suffer for it, up to and including making the announcement just a few hours before their joint rally in North Carolina. Now a shady decision to let her walk will look even shadier, with Comey’s boss side by side onstage with the unjustly freed suspect who was coincidentally cleared by the FBI mere hours in advance. Not charging her was going to reek no matter how it was done but Comey made the stench overpowering. Hard to believe a guy as smart as him didn’t do it deliberately.
Exit question: Why did Comey note at the end that he didn’t believe any reasonable prosecutor would bring charges under these circumstances? That’s a question for a grand jury, no?