A thought experiment via Mediaite. If the fateful late October letter from Comey announcing that Emailgate had been reopened hadn’t pushed Trump over the top, would President Clinton have kept him on as director? (Particularly since he cleared her in a second letter a few days later.) Would it have depended on how much damage the letter ended up doing on Election Day? That is, if her team was projecting her to win ~300 electoral votes and she’d won that many, she might have concluded “no harm, no foul” on the letter. If she underperformed and won a surprisingly tight race with ~270 EVs, maybe she wouldn’t have let it go. In that case, there’d be evidence that Comey’s unorthodox public disclosure of the FBI’s thinking on Emailgate really had cost her votes, some legitimacy, and — almost — the presidency. Maybe she’d have dropped the axe, offering the same reasoning Rod Rosenstein did in his memo to Trump in the days before Comey was actually fired, that public faith in the Bureau’s apolitical nature had been shaken. Angry Democrats would have been howling for his head, furious that he’d almost cost her, and them, the election. Possibly she would have handed it to them.
But maybe she would have seen past that. It seems undeniable that his eleventh-hour letter hurt her, whether or not it was actually decisive. But imagine a world in which he doesn’t send that letter. *Maybe* she wins the election. Or maybe things go a little differently. Here’s Ryan Lizza writing a few days after Comey sent his letter in October 2016:
Think of the decision from Comey’s perspective. He could either disclose the new development now and risk being accused of influencing the election, or he could keep quiet; then, when the news of Abedin’s laptop inevitably leaked, he could be accused of caving to Lynch and her staff and keeping the information from voters. If the news leaked after the election and after Hillary Clinton was President, Republicans would turn the non-disclosure into a monumental scandal and allege that Comey played a role in a Lynch-instigated cover-up. If Clinton were President, the ensuing scandal would taint her victory, with Republicans arguing that voters were kept in the dark about a major development in one of the central issues of the campaign.
If he kept the reopening of Emailgate secret and she won the election, only to have the news leak after Election Day that the feds had found emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, Trump would have spent every day for months insisting that the election was tainted because Comey had failed to break the news to Americans before they voted. He spent months during the campaign insisting that “the system” was rigged and hinting darkly that if he lost it could only be because the vote had been rigged too. If Comey had held the letter back, Trump would have seized on it as the smoking gun. Republicans in Congress would have spent the next two years holding hearings. Hannity would be demanding impeachment, removal, and a do-over election. Clinton would have been regarded by the right as utterly illegitimate at best and corrupt at worst, having supposedly leaned on her friends at Obama’s DOJ and FBI to keep Comey from sending the letter.
But now imagine something Lizza didn’t consider. Imagine that Comey had declined to send a letter but the fact that Emailgate had been reopened leaked anyway *before* Election Day. Not only would that news have made the same huge splash that the letter itself made in 2016, the stench of corruption involved in Comey trying to suppress the information might have made its impact even worse. It would have looked like the FBI had tried to cover up relevant info to help the Obama-favored Democrat win. That might have spurred Trump on to an even bigger victory. Democrats might have said afterward that it would have been better for them if Comey had just disclosed the reopening of the investigation himself. If only he’d sent a farking letter, she might have won!
The point isn’t that Comey did the best possible thing for Hillary in sending the letter. I’m sure she’d prefer to be president and have her legitimacy attacked every day by the right (which was bound to happen regardless) in a world where Comey didn’t send it than to be where she is now. But if he had sent it and she won anyway, *maybe* his rationale for doing so — full candor with the public, sparing her from the appearance of impropriety if she won — would have led her to keep him on. Or maybe not: Clinton crony Lanny Davis has said he would have advised her to fire him and Clinton herself said last year that Rosenstein’s memo criticizing Comey put “in writing all the things I’d been thinking for months. It was as if the world had finally come to its senses.” She might have canned him.
To think, in a slightly different world, we could have ended up with FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
Here’s Comey last night waxing eloquent about how “deeply enmeshed in the rule of law” Hillary is, which makes me think he was high for this interview. Thought-experiment exit question: What would have happened to the Russiagate investigation under President Hillary? Would it have been dropped for let-bygones-be-bygones reasons or would she have pursued it, if only to counter Trump’s incessant “election was rigged!” screaming at her?