The FBI has concluded for the second time in four months that Hillary Clinton’s alleged mishandling of her emails should not be criminally prosecuted. James Comey, the bureau’s embattled director, informed Congress via letter today (Nov. 6) that “based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July,” when it said criminal prosecution was not warranted.
Comey’s letter comes a little more than a week after he hurled a giant curveball into the presidential race, announcing the fresh discovery of emails that “might be pertinent” to Clinton’s case. The emails were found in a separate investigation on a device that belonged to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of senior Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Mind you, Comey’s re-clearing Clinton of a crime comes after 41 million Americans have already voted. The furor that followed his Oct. 28 announcement likely helped shrivel the robust lead Clinton held over Republican rival Donald Trump after their third and final debate. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver now gives Clinton only a two-in-three chance of winning; a few weeks ago, her chances of winning were closer to 80%.
Even if Clinton wins, it will be impossible to know how deeply the email drama has stained her reputation. More than half of voters wrongly believe Clinton has done something illegal, according to a recent McClatchy-Marist Poll.
It still isn’t clear why the email foofaraw got generated in the first place. Comey’s announcement of the investigation and his public briefing on its results are highly irregular. It’s against FBI policy to comment on ongoing investigations. It’s unusual for the FBI to publicly report a decision not to press criminal charges, and also arguably bizarre to have the FBI director publicly chide a presidential nominee—again, found guilty of no criminal activity—of “extremely careless” handling of classified information, as Comey did in his Jul. 5 press briefing.
However questionable the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s bumbling IT policies from four years ago, the polls make its effect on the campaign distressingly clear. It’s also given Trump a chance to whip up conspiracy theories that undermine America’s democratic process.
On the campaign trail in Minnesota, Trump, who had hailed Comey’s eleventh-hour email re-investigation as definitive proof that Clinton is a criminal, cited the most recent determination as evidence of government corruption.
Of course, the FBI is only partially responsible for the email drama. The media has chattered relentlessly about it, even after Comey cleared Clinton of any criminal wrongdoing. Since the beginning of 2016, the nightly news programs of three major networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—devoted a combined 100 minutes to reporting on Clinton’s emails, and only 32 minutes to policy issues, according to a study by Media Matters.