Is Bloomberg Betting Hillary Gets Indicted?

It’s said that the former New York mayor will only jump in the race if Sanders is the Democratic nominee. But maybe Mike thinks a lot less of Hillary than we realize.

01.25.16 5:01 AM ET

The conventional wisdom says that Mike Bloomberg, whose presidential dreams were revealed Saturday by The New York Times, will in all likelihood not run against Hillary Clinton. The conventional wisdom is probably right in this case. It’s hard to imagine that against Clinton, Bloomberg would be anything but a Naderesque spoiler, which he would know and not want to be; against Bernie Sanders on one side and “Crump” (either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump) on the other, however, I think Bloomberg becomes a candidate—and a real player.

Unfortunately for Bloomberg, the chances of Sanders winning the Democratic nomination are quite slim, as he surely knows. So the rubber-hitting-road question is: Is there any chance he’d run against Clinton? I mean, if nothing else, this is presumably his last shot at glory, as he’s a few weeks shy of 74 (what’s with all these septuagenarians, anyway?).

There was a hint in that Times article that suggested he might consider doing that—that at a dinner party at the home of a prominent Clinton backer last fall, Bloomberg offered a “piquant assessment” (those Times euphemisms!) of Clinton’s weaknesses, built around “questions about her honesty” and the email mess.

I can back this up. On Saturday, I spoke with a longtime New Yorker I know who heard Bloomberg inveigh similarly last year at another such event, as Bloomberg delivered a blistering critique of the email controversy and even suggested—well, piquantly!—that Clinton deserved to be in very serious legal trouble. This person was “shocked by how little he seemed to think of her.”

A source in Bloomberg world says this is nonsense; this person claims to have heard the ex-mayor limn Clinton in adulatory tones numerous times, saying, in this person’s words, that she was practically alone among the candidates in being able “to take care of business”—simply to run the government and country responsibly and prudently. From the technocratic Bloomberg, praise doesn’t come higher.

Both these things can be true, of course. Let’s assume that Bloomberg was aghast at the email situation last year, but that it’s faded, and he’s now decided he’d be fine with a Clinton presidency even as he explores a bid of his own. OK. But even this brings us to another thought—that maybe Bloomberg thinks there’s some chance Clinton might be indicted sometime soon.

If you were shocked to read that sentence, you’re clearly not reading enough conservative websites. Let me say up front here that while I have no idea of the status of the ongoing FBI investigation into the email business, I would be really surprised to see this happen. Righties have been predicting her imminent indictment ever since Bill Safire’s ignominious 1996 column, but as far as is known publicly, Clinton is not under investigation. It was last summer when the FBI started looking into the matter, and officials announced then that Clinton wasn’t a target.

But that was months ago, so who knows, really? This Charles McCullough, the intelligence community inspector general who keeps retroactively stamping “classified” on emails Clinton read or wrote when she was secretary, and who originally notified the executive branch last July that classified information might exist on Clinton’s server, sure seems to be an aggressive sort.

I think it’s a farfetched scenario myself. An ex-prosecutor friend tells me that a crime would require criminal intent. Then there’s the question of the timing. Somebody’s going to bring serious charges against one of the two major parties’ leading presidential hopeful in an election year? Conservatives whose carotid veins are popping after reading that sentence would do well to remember a time when they excoriated a prosecutor who brought suspiciously timed indictments of Republicans. Google Lawrence Walsh.

But mostly it seems farfetched to me because I just consider it pretty unlikely that any secretary of state, any American in that position, would knowingly compromise U.S. intelligence-gathering efforts.

If you talk to plugged-in liberals, they say forget it, ridiculous. If you talk to plugged-in conservatives, they, well, they at least hope it’s going to happen, think it clearly ought to happen, and maybe this week, i.e., before Democrats start casting votes. If nothing else, a non-indictment gives them all a chance to caterwaul for another few months (or years) about how the Clintons keep getting away with things and go raise money off that.

And what if these conservatives happen to be right? Well, when I’ve discussed this with liberals, most people think Joe Biden is the automatic Plan B. John Kerry gets a few mentions, on the grounds that he tried it once before, but that strikes me as a minus, not a plus. In any case, Democrats I’ve discussed this with all assume they rally behind a new establishment-type candidate rather than throwing in their eggs with Bernie. Or maybe they could rally to a Bloomberg bid, since many, many Democrats represent districts where a Sanders endorsement could hurt them. And don’t forget, the above scenario seems to assume that Clinton under such circumstances would just stop in her tracks. Not sure we can assume that.

I hope, and believe, all this will remain hypothetical. I just bet it’s rattling around in Bloomberg’s cage somewhere.