We need to talk about Republican abuse of power.
Something got lost in the sturm und drang over the FBI’s “October surprise” that dropped Friday afternoon, when director James Comey inexplicably dropped the bomblet that his agency had obtained “new” emails (or maybe duplicate ones; apparently no one’s read them yet) from a laptop shared by Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin and her creeper husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner.
Behind Comey’s defiance of both precedent and the guidance of his boss, the attorney general, was the subtext of intense pressure being put on the FBI and the Justice Department by Republicans, some of whom rushed Comey’s vague letter to members of the press.
Republicans have relentlessly pursued investigations of Hillary Clinton, going back to her time as secretary of state (to say nothing of the 30-year project to take down both Clintons by right-wing outside groups). The goal of the eight Benghazi committees, one of which produced and nurtured “emailgate,” has been clear from the start: to prevent Hillary Clinton from becoming president of the United States. Comey disappointed Republicans in July by not going along with what would have been a highly unusual indictment of a public official given the facts of Clinton’s email use, Republicans responded by dragging him before Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s House Oversight committee. Donald Trump called for Comey himself to be investigated.
That Comey felt pressed to step way outside the bounds of what previous directors have done by making his July statement at all, complete with editorial embellishments about Clinton’s conduct, and then to make new statements about the investigation 11 days before a national election is indeed “unprecedented and deeply troubling,” as Clinton herself put it at a rally Saturday.
Congress, and some of the same committees pursuing email investigations, hold the purse strings over Comey’s agency. And one can only imagine the pressure being placed on the agency by Capitol Hill. The double standard of Comey’s talk about Clinton with his silence regarding whether or not his agency is probing the ties between current and former Trump aides and Russia suggests that whatever pressure the FBI is feeling, it’s coming from just one partisan direction.
Republicans including Chafftez eagerly tweeted out Comey’s news Friday, and Trump supporters (and some media outlets) ran with the erroneous claim that the FBI had “reopened” its Clinton email probe (it never closed it) and that the agency is revisiting its decision not to prosecute Clinton over her email server (there’s exactly zero evidence of that). And since Republicans have openly signaled that they plan “years of investigations” of Clinton should she win on November 8th, it’s not hard to see where this is going. They’re hoping this new “revelation” sinks Clinton, but expecting to use the faux scandal to drag her down over the next four years.
This follows a pattern that dates back to the Bill Clinton administration, when Republicans used the majorities they gained in the House in 1994 to pursue endless, relentless probes of the first family in search of a scandal that could hand the White House back to the GOP. The point of the many “gates” – Filegate, Travelgate, Whitewater and Lewinskygate – was never to advance public policy, or to hold the president and administration accountable to the American people. They were a naked grab for power by means outside the electoral process.
There’s simply nothing on the other side of the aisle that’s equivalent. When they took back Congress in 2006, for example, Democrats didn’t pursue probes of the Bush White House, even given the lies that led to the Iraq war, and the discovery of warrantless wiretapping and other abuses of civil liberties.
The abuse of congressional power for pure partisan gain has become a specialty of the GOP.
The Obama administration has provided no opportunities to scandalize the presidency. So Republicans have leaned into fake scandals like Benghazi and the IRS’s attempts to deal with the flood of tea party groups who filed for charity status ahead of the 2012 election. It was inevitable that the eye of Sauron would eventually turn back to Clinton, as it became clear that she would run for president. But the place they have pushed the FBI to is unprecedented, indeed.
After the election, should this ugly gambit fail, be assured Republicans will use every ounce of their time and authority to take the meager gifts the bumbling FBI director has given them and put them to use in service of the next election. The people’s work be damned.