Some may scoff at this notion, especially after Barack Obama’s public assurance that Hillary Clinton’s secret and unsecured private e-mail system had not compromised national security. Republicans pressed FBI Director James Comey to explain how Obama could be so certain of that conclusion. Comey, whose reputation as a straight arrow draws respect from both parties in Washington, replied that Obama has no way of knowing it:
“Anybody’s view about an investigation they’re not involved in is irrelevant,” Comey said, and promised that the White House would not influence the investigation.
“We care about finding out what is true, and doing that in a competent, honest, and independent way,” he said. “I promise you that’s the way we conduct ourselves.”
“As I’ve said many times, we don’t give a rip about politics,” Comey said.
In other words, the President … acted stupidly on television? Comey sounds exasperated by the issue, and he should be. If Comey’s right that White House views are “irrelevant” because they aren’t involved, then Obama’s remarks on 60 Minutes could be seen as a form of signaling to the investigators as to what he expects them to determine. The Hill notes that this is exactly what got some at the FBI rankled about the interview.
Comey, who has famously bucked higher-ups in the past, isn’t likely to countenance that kind of thing stoically. He made that point pretty clear, and the rebuke to the White House should be crystal clear.
That doesn’t mean that politics won’t come into play, even if Comey succeeds in keeping politics out of the investigation. Sen. Chuck Grassley made his expectations pretty clear, too, and they aren’t optimistic:
Even if the search uncovers evidence of wrongdoing, critics warn that the Obama administration would be reluctant to press charges against Clinton or other former State Department officials.
“No matter what the FBI finds, a political appointee of the Justice Department will ultimately make the decision of whether or not to prosecute,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said on Wednesday. “If the FBI refers the matter to the Justice Department, but the Justice Department refuses to prosecute, the public will not learn the facts that the FBI independently established.”
As we have said all along, it’s only illegal in practical terms if a prosecutor chooses to file charges and take a defendant to trial. That’s out of Comey’s hands, at least formally — but his reputation and position could make a decision not to press charges very, very uncomfortable for Obama and Loretta Lynch. If they assume Comey will be irrelevant, they may be taking a high-risk gamble. Comey may be doing some signaling of his own here.