A new inside look at the chaos between the FBI and the Justice Department reveals that Hillary Clinton was correct. FBI Director Comey’s letter to Congress 12 days before the election was a bombshell whose impact was underestimated by both the FBI and the Justice Department.
The Washington Post provides details of how concerns at both FBI and Justice about public appearances and backlash led to a dispute over a letter that probably got Trump elected:
Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again. He was surprised by the intensity of the reaction to his letter, according to people familiar with Comey’s thinking. His reputation fell further after the FBI acknowledged three days before the election that the emails amounted to nothing.
Comey has taken the harsher beating in public for his decision, but some political observers and former Justice officials say that Lynch deserves at least as much scrutiny.
Meanwhile, Justice officials decided that neither Lynch nor her deputy, Yates, should order Comey to not send the letter. They weren’t sure how Comey would respond to such a command. And they too feared leaks. Lynch and her advisers were nervous about how it would look if people found out that she, a Democratic presidential appointee, told Comey to keep secret from Congress a new development in the Clinton investigation.
Attorney General Lynch was worried about looking partisan, so she never ordered Comey not to send the letter. Comey ignored advice from the Justice Department and federal prosecutors not to send the letter because he was worried about leaks and public backlash.
It appears that Comey and Lynch didn’t understand the degree of impact of the immediate spin by the Trump campaign, Republicans, and the media.
When the Clintons blamed James Comey for giving Trump new momentum that cost Democrats the election, they have a point. Without Comey’s letter, those 100,000 or so voters from Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who put Trump in the White House might have made a different choice.
The nation may never know the extent of the damage caused by Comey’s letter, but it definitely was an October surprise that whether it was intended to or not, propelled Trump into the White House.