OUTRAGE

James Comey Puts Thumb on Scale, Brings Third World-Style Election to America

Even J. Edgar Hoover never tampered with a contest in the way that Comey’s FBI is doing now.

Photo Illustration Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast

Now that the FBI has its warrant, agents will presumably move fast to scour the Abedin-Weiner laptop for the relevant emails, with the Times reporting the Bureau is likely to “again publicly discuss a continuing investigation involving a presidential candidate in the final days of the campaign.”

Stop and think that over. So under this scenario, this Thursday, say, James Comey is going to announce one of two things. One, we’ve looked through the relevant emails, and there’s nothing there—they’re all duplicates, or they’re just office talk about Clinton’s schedule and what not, or perhaps that they didn’t involve Clinton at all (a possibility, since Abedin had an address on the private Clinton server). Oops, sorry! Two, he’ll say yes, in fact, the emails we’ve seen require further investigation. We’ll get back to you after the election.

So. Is it not obvious that if Comey does either of these things—and having started this Friday with that vague letter, he is under enormous, and reasonable, pressure, to say something else before Americans vote—he will have plopped a massive thumb down on the scale of the American electoral process? I won’t go quite so far as to say that we would have a law-enforcement agency determining the outcome of an election. But we’re not nearly as far removed from that grim, Third World-sounding reality as we would like to be.

It’s a complete outrage. Obviously, I’m hoping he says there’s nothing new here. But either way it’s an unconscionable thing for an FBI director to do. How could he not have thought this through before he acted last weekend?

Consider this worst-case (from a Clinton point of view) hypothetical. Comey announces later this week that the emails merit further looking into. That’s potentially enough to sink Clinton and give us President Trump.

But then, in December or January or whenever, he announces that the bureau’s review is complete and nothing classified was found in the new material. Then, Clinton would have lost an election she was clearly poised to win solely because he made an irresponsible and baseless announcement.

But it doesn’t end there. Here’s a hypothetical for Trump partisans to stew on. Comey announces later this week that Clinton is in the clear. She wins. Then, next month or whenever, some of the anti-Clinton forces within the FBI—and they are numerous and presumably furious and right now leaking like a sieve to The Wall Street Journal and others—put out material suggesting that some of these new emails should have been classified at the time. Then, it’s Trump who was screwed, at least in the eyes of his voters. And how do we think Trump would react to that?

That’s what Comey has unleashed here. He has potentially delegitimized the outcome regardless of who wins. But especially if Clinton hangs on to win. The legitimacy fire about her was already at five alarms. They’re now handcuffing people in Hillary costume at Trump rallies. A quarter or so of America utterly despises her. Comey has just backed up a fuel tanker over the fire and pulled the cord.

I said this is shaping up to be a Third-World election above. Let me spell that out in a little more detail, because it’s staggering—or used to be—to think of the United States of America in these terms. The FBI is our chief domestic police and surveillance agency. It is our equivalent, in other words, of an interior ministry domestic police force in a developing-world nation.

If we Americans were watching an election unfold in, say, a Latin American country, and the head of the domestic police force did what Comey did, we’d be chortling our heads off at their backward, thuggish ways. The Organization of American States would be launching an investigation (come to think of it, the United States is an OAS member; someone should deliver a complaint to their architecturally enchanting door, just a block from the White House).

If anything, in developing nations, there have been some efforts in recent years to take the power of overseeing elections away from interior ministries and hand it to (ostensibly) independent commissions. In 2013, after some controversies we all know about, Iran took oversight of its elections out of their interior ministry and gave it to a newly created board. Iran.

No, the FBI doesn’t run our elections. But Comey has opened up the possibility that the outcome could hinge on actions taken by our national domestic police operation. It’s constitutionally and ethically shocking.

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Yes, the bureau has always been political. And yes, its rank-and-file has always leaned heavily Republican. And yes, there has always been, beyond ideology, a culture clash between the Bureau—with its deep northeastern, Irish-Catholic, working and middle class roots—and the Ivy League toffs who have traditionally run the government, especially when the Democrats win elections. The FBI, Pat Moynihan once famously quipped, is “filled with Fordham graduates keeping tabs on Harvard men in the State Department.”

But J. Edgar Hoover never did this. You think Hoover didn’t have the goods on Jack Kennedy to swing the 1960 election to Nixon? Of course he did. He had the goods on everybody. He could have ruined LBJ, all of them (well, maybe there wasn’t any dirt on Jimmy Carter in 1976, but all the rest of them). So even Hoover never did something like what Comey has done. Ponder that sentence.

Then again, Hoover wasn’t operating at a time when one of the two major presidential candidates said repeatedly that the other one should be in jail; when he vowed that if elected he would see to it that she was prosecuted, as if (again) this were a Third-World nation where heads of states can do such things on a whim; when that same candidate invited and encouraged the intelligence services of an authoritarian nation to dig up more dirt on his opponent. Hoover was a Republican, but he wasn’t a banana republican. These days we’re surrounded by them.