[The first example of an Ethics Train Wreck or ETW (Ethics Alarms Definition: Ethics train wrecks are chains of unethical conduct created by a central unethical action. As the event becomes more complex and involves more participants, it becomes increasingly difficult to sort out right from wrong, and all parties who become involved with the episode in any way are at risk of engaging in unethical conduct themselves, intentionally or inadvertently.) that spawned a second ETW, or sub-train wreck to a train wreck, was the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman ETW, which has launched several (Ferguson, Freddie Gray). I am now forced to designate the Hillary Clinton E-Mail Scandal, previously just a prominent car, perhaps even the engine, on the Hillary Clinton Presidential Candidacy Ethics Train Wreck, as an ETA itself. Since the revelation of the letter FBI director Comey sent to Congress explaining that the investigation into possible Clinton criminal wrongdoing regarding her reckless handling of official State Department communications was no longer to be considered “completed,” passengers have been leaping onto this rampaging juggernaut like there was free Halloween candy on board. I have no choice. In what I fear will be just the first of many, this post will sort out the latest developments.]
1. The word that best expresses the reaction of the Clinton campaign, its media allies and Hillary’s supporters is fury. The emotion in this context resembles the moment in every action film when the super-villain or evil mastermind who was sure that victory was his suddenly discovers that through an amazing confluence of factors, he’s going to lose after all. This comparison is not flattering to Hillary, her minions and her corrupted, but it is apt. They really believe that they deserve to get away with years of unethical and incompetent conduct and more than a year of lying about it, and go into election day with it all a distant memory, sure to be spun as just another conservative “nothingburger” …until the next time.
If there is anything worse than unethical practitioners of politics, it is smug and arrogant ones. To some extent I resent being led so forcefully to schadenfreude, but still, this crew so deserves its present pain! They also deserve to have voters go into their booths November 8 still uncertain of just how dishonest and corrupt Hillary Clinton is, wondering if, as with Richard Nixon in 1972 (Hillary is this generation’s Nixon, except that he was more skilled, and she has the gender card to play), there are more ugly shoes to drop.
I have written this before and recently, but it bears repeating: Hillary Clinton has nobody to blame for this crisis but herself. She could have played by the rules; she could have turned everything over to State immediately, including the mysterious 30,000 “personal” emails; she could have admitted misconduct and ignorance; she could have been honest to journalists and the public. If she had done these things, the entire episode would have been negated before 2015 was out. Being angry at James Comey makes as much sense as Trump being angry at his various sexual assault accusers, and it is just as much an indication of base character.
2. The news media’s taking the cue from the Clinton campaign and reporting this as a James Comey/ FBI story is yet more proof of news media bias and its efforts to assist Clinton. Comey was cheered by Democrats (and accused of conspiring to clear Hillary by Republicans) for not recommending an indictment of Clinton when the investigation was first closed. We have since learned that his decision was very unpopular among his subordinates. The argument that the same man is now showing political bias against Clinton makes no sense.
Here is the most unethical headline yet in the “Let’s smear Comey for Hillary” division. The New York Times. this morning, on the front page, proclaims: “James Comey Role Recalls Hoover’s F.B.I., Fairly or Not.”
Who’s “recalling”? Nobody who remembers Hoover’s FBI and isn’t trying to impugn Comey unfairly would make this comparison. This is a cognitive dissonance attack, despicably seeking to link Comey to the infamously racist, extorting, power-abusing founder of the FBI.
3. Solidifying his hold on the title of The Most Repugnant Elected Official is Washington, Senator Harry Reid actually suggested that Comey may have violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that forbids a government employee from engaging in political campaign activities like soliciting campaign donations or actively working on behalf of individual candidates, especially while on the job, or to “use [their] official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” The suggestion is despicable as well as dishonest. If any official act or communication that had a likely or potential effect on a political campaign was prosecuted under the Hatch Act, almost no official acts could take place at all. Reid has proven himself through the years by turns contemptuous or ignorant of the law, but this is outrageous even for him. It is, as the Washington Post implies without exactly saying, another example of Reid’s ethics-free approach to politics.:
Back in 2012, Reid said he had been told that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid any taxes over the preceding 10 years. Reid offered no proof, and his claim turned out to be wrong. But he injected the idea into the campaign and left it up to Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, to disprove it. As recently as last month, Reid offered absolutely no apologies for his incorrect claim, suggesting that it had had the intended effect. He even called it “one of the best things I’ve ever done.”That Reid interview with The Post’s Ben Terris also included this gem:
Terris: Is there a line he wouldn’t cross when it comes to political warfare?
Reid: I don’t know what that line would be.
Of course he doesn’t: No ethics, no ethical lines to worry about! Naturally, most of the news media and all of the left-wing sources have treated Reid’s smear with far more attention than it deserves, except to show how vile the former Senate Majority Leader is. What Comey did could not possibly be a Hatch Act violation, and a prosecution, absent evidence that Comey was motivated solely and only by the desire to see Clinton defeated ,would be itself unethical.
CNN found a law professor, Steve Vladek, to give the most generous analysis possible to Reid’s Machiavellian lie, and even he could come up with no more than, “Even if the FBI director’s conduct did not violate the letter of the Hatch Act, it may well have violated the spirit of the Act. ”
Well, professor, as you know (but maybe some CNN watchers don’t) violations of law in spirit rather than letter are still not violations. As his explication continued, we learn that even the professor’s spirit violation case is non-existent, since
“…the Hatch Act does not focus on the effect of the employee’s conduct, but the intent. To that end, if Comey did not intend to interfere with or affect the upcoming election through his letter to Congress, then he did not violate the letter of the Hatch Act. Of course, only Comey knows what his intent was.”
Is the professor implying that Comey lied? Comey has said specifically what his intent was. He has said that since he promised Congress to alert them if there were any new developments in the Clinton e-mail case, he felt obligated to inform them. He believed this was a new development of significance. He also had told them, under oath, that the investigation was “completed.” Now that it was again active, that information was untrue, and he felt had an obligation to correct it. I agree with him.
That was Comey’s intent. The burden is on Reid and Prof. Vladek to show it was something else, and if they can’t, and they can’t, they should shut up.
UPDATE: I just saw that Jonathan Turley’s reaction to Reid’s accusation is essentially the same as mine. He writes in part,
With all due respect to our esteemed GW graduate (and I really do respect Sen. Reid), his allegation is in my view wildly misplaced…. I cannot see a plausible, let alone compelling, basis for such a charge against Comey….It is troubling to see Democrats (who historically favor both transparency and checks on executive powers) argue against such disclosure and cooperation with oversight committees. More importantly, the Hatch Act is simply a dog that will not hunt.
Wait: what possible justification is there for having respect for Harry Reid?
4. One-Half Ethics Hero: Barack Obama
“The president doesn’t believe Director Comey is intentionally trying to influence the outcome of an election,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. “The president doesn’t believe he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party.” Earnest called Comey “a man of integrity” and a “man of good character” but acknowledged that “he’s in a tough spot” when it comes to the Clinton email probe.“I’ll neither defend nor criticize what Director Comey has decided to communicate to the public about this investigation,” he added.Earnest said that the Justice Department’s “expansive” investigative authorities should be tempered by “longstanding tradition, practice, and norms that limit public discussion of facts.”
He declined, however, to say whether those norms were violated in this case.“The president believes it’s important for those norms and traditions and guidelines to be followed,” he said.
It was appropriate and unexpected for Obama to give this vote of confidence to Comey while Democrats and the Clinton campaign were calling for the FBI director’s head. However, his endorsement of “longstanding tradition, practice, and norms that limit public discussion of facts” seemed to be critical of Comey, as well as ethically troubling. What is good about a “longstanding tradition” of withholding facts from the public? I thought Obama was going to change that, and create “the most transparent Administration in history”?
More to come…