11 days before the 2016 elections, FBI Director James Comey for the second time ignored department policy and inserted himself into the presidential election, sending a letter to House Republicans indicating that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server had been re-opened. If Republicans hold the White House and/or Senate we may remember this as the death knell for American democracy, as his decision probably changed the course of the election.
As it happens, because I’m a fan of the work of Billy Ray, I watched the new docudrama The Comey Rule recently. The pre-election half is the better of the two, and is also all the more damning because the show (based on Comey’s book) tries to present Comey’s logic as he saw it. His first key intervention into the election — his idea that the public would only accept that Hillary Clinton was innocent if he issued a statement that also harshly criticized her — was based on transparently nonsensical logic, and at least according to the movie most of the FBI people he explained it to told him it was dumb. Alas, there’s no way of talking someone who is convinced he is the One Indispensable Man Who Is Above Politics that he’s wrong; the criticism only fortifies his position.
The October 28 letter can be made to be seem a little more defensible if you focus on certain facts. At least as Comey saw it, 1)Clinton was going to win, 2)House Republicans would go ballistic if the investigation turned up something but they hadn’t been told, and 3)the New York bureau would probably leak the story about the laptop anyway.
One obvious flaw here is step 1 — apparently they never even considered the possibility that Trump could win, and Comey thought it would be “political” to consider whether or not the letter could affect the outcome. But the bigger problem is with step 2. Comey’s logic is critically dependent on the assumption that there was a strong possibility that the Weiner laptop would contain information that would require charges against Clinton — who cares if Jason Chaffetz found out about a investigation that didn’t turn anything up? But, of course, there was no actual reason to think the laptop had any new meaningful information about Clinton at all, let alone evidence that she had intentionally mishandled classified information:
The question at issue was the content of Clinton’s emails.
The new discovery was of someone else's laptop.
All that could ever have possibly been on his laptop were client-side copies of emails that had already been reviewed on the server side. That’s how email works.— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) October 23, 2020
Both Comey’s decision and the incredibly bad media coverage were fully based on the Clinton Rule — the idea that Clinton was presumptively guilty of something and the only question is what. Republican attempts to EMAILS! Biden aren’t working because as a white guy the media likes there’s no need to invent reasons to assume that he’s doing something wrong, so reporters can feel free to call a ratfuck a ratfuck. The 2020 standard — i.e. one is not obligated to pretend to care what Republicans pretend to think is important if there’s no actual evidence of misconduct by anyone running for office — is the correct one, but it may be too late.