woody zimmermann 120The most bizarre presidential campaign in living memory took an even more bizarre turn this week when FBI Director James Comey “amended” his statement of early July, which had indicated that an indictment of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would not be sought regarding her use of a private e-mail server to receive and transmit classified documents. As I noted in an earlier article [1] Director Comey had declared that Mrs. Clinton and her staff “…were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information,” while concluding “…that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” In plain language, the matter was closed.

These declarations predictably produced much rejoicing in the Clinton camp over the vindication of their righteous candidate, and at least as much bitter denunciation of political “foul play” from the Trump side. Eel-like, Mrs. Clinton had once again slithered free of what looked – to millions of Americans well-acquainted with rules and laws governing classified material – like clear violations of those laws. It was an escape worthy of Willie Sutton himself. [2]

But this week, according to Mr. Comey, the game is once again “afoot.” Exact information is sparse on exactly why the e-mail case was re-opened, but “insiders” (whoever they may be) say that classified information appears to have been sent to the cell-phone of former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Mrs. Clinton’s advisor and vice-chair of her campaign, Huma Abedin. At present, the situation is extremely confused, with both presidential campaigns voicing opinions the exact opposites of those they held after Mr. Comey’s July announcement. Republicans think it might be their 11th-hour miracle. Democrats act like someone just threw a jockstrap into the punch-bowl.

Dark theories abound on why Mr. Comey would suddenly re-open the Clinton e-mail case just 10 days before the election. Being a lifetime-member of the Grassy Knoll Society myself, I resonate with some, but have no special knowledge on which (if any) might be true. My best tack here is to describe each theory briefly, give my assessment, and let the reader decide which seems most plausible. Here are five possible theories that have reached my ear (in no particular order). I’ll conclude by indicating my favorite(s).

(1) It’s a last-ditch diversion to save Mrs. Clinton.

This popular theory evokes what political wags now call the Rule of Rahm: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” It originated with Mr. Obama’s original Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who famously (if cynically) espoused the use of crises to enact policies and laws that could never pass congressional muster in normal times. (The Zim-corollary to the Rahm’s Rule is: “If no crisis is available, create a diversion.”)

Close observers of the Obama administration’s modus operandi believe that with the presidential race tightening – possibly due to damage done to Mrs. Clinton by the WikiLeaks e-mail disclosures – a bold move was required to divert media- and public-attention away from those wretched hacked e-mails. A sensational announcement by Mr. Comey that the Clinton case was being re-opened – possibly in connection with the sex-pervert Weiner – was just the ticket for sending the media hounds baying after a fresh scent. (With no hurricane extant, it was the best they could do.) Wall-to-wall, 24/7 coverage is sure to follow. Then, after a week or so – runs the theory – the FBI will sound the all-clear, announcing that nothing untoward has been found and Mrs. Clinton is completely in the clear. During that week, the WikiLeaks story will vanish down the Memory Hole and – Voila! – Election Day will arrive. With Mrs. Clinton free of any taint from vexing e-mails and perverts, she cruises to an easy win.

Is this credible? History suggests that it could be what’s happening. Diversions have been a favorite tool of the Obamanistas from day one. On the other hand, would an issue as risky as Mrs. Clinton’s classified e-mails be a plausible choice for a diversion? Announce that Mrs. Clinton might still have a classified e-mail problem in order to divert attention away from the WikiLeaks disclosures? Are you kidding me? That’s like the Keystone Kops starting a fire to stop a pie-battle.

(2) There’s a revolt inside the FBI.

I have heard this one from several quarters, including from a merchant I know whose clients include wives of several FBI agents. This theory has Mr. Comey re-opening the Clinton investigation to head off leaks of new information by FBI agents who are outraged that she was allowed to skate on charges that would fire any ordinary citizens (at least) or send them to jail (at worst).

Part of this theory includes the possibility that those Clinton laptops supposedly “smashed” under FBI-supervision were actually salvaged by agents who refused to destroy evidence connected to a possible criminal case. Another part is the idea that Mr. Comey was forced, for political reasons, to close the original investigation without charging Mrs. Clinton. He knows that this was a mistake which he needs to correct in the interest of restoring the morale and integrity of his agency.

This seems far-fetched, but you never know. There is the verbal evidence of the merchant (whose occupation I decline to identify, to prevent a fire or a mysterious disappearance). Nearly anything is possible when politics intrude into law-enforcement.

(3) Director Comey wants to wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

By this theory, Mr. Comey’s re-opening of the Clinton case is an October Surprise meant to mortally wound Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Comey’s reputation as an honest public servant took a hit when he closed the case in July. Undoubtedly (say the theorists) he was commanded by his superiors to stop the music so Mrs. Clinton could win. In order to restore his reputation and possibly protect his job after the election, Mr. Comey wants Mrs. Clinton to lose. Or perhaps he believes she is headed for a sure loss, so he wants to look good to Mr. Trump by re-opening the case. Either way, it’s all about his job.

Could it be true? It’s all speculation, of course. We can’t know because we don’t know Mr. Comey’s heart. He has a reputation for honesty. I would hate to learn that he’s just another political hack.

(4) President Obama wants to wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Thus, he has directed Mr. Comey to re-open the Clinton case to cast a cloud of suspicion over her on the eve of the election. This is so far-fetched that I hesitate to include it as a plausible theory. We often hear of the enmity between the Obamas and the Clinton, stemming from the 2008 Democratic primary when Mrs. Clinton “wuz robbed” of a sure win by the dazzling, silver-tongued upstart who came out of nowhere to stop her at the five-yard-line. But Mr. Obama is enthusiastically campaigning for her, and so is Mrs. Obama. Is that all just for show? How could the president want Mr. Trump to win, when he is dead certain to undo much of Mr. Obama’s transformative “change?” Knocking out Mrs. Clinton would really be a daft move on his part. More than anything else, he wants his legacy to be protected by a new president who is somewhat sympathetic to it.

(5) Mr. Comey is an honest lawman following the evidence where it leads.

We have been made so cynical by corrupt political dealings that the possibility of actual honesty motivating a public official seems improbable. (I admit to being guilty of this, too.) However unlikely it may seem, Mr. Comey could be a serious tough-guy who won’t bow to political pressures from either side. I am sympathetic to the difficult tap-dance he has to perform to enforce the law honestly, while avoiding the appearance of trying to influence an election in which one of the candidates might have violated federal law. As Gilbert and Sullivan famously wrote, “A policeman’s lot is not an ‘appy one.”

On the other hand, honest law-enforcement is fundamentally compromised – arguably corrupted – when its agents must tiptoe round possible political consequences when they investigate violations by political figures. To the man on the street – who absolutely knows he would never be treated so delicately – the whole thing looks and smells bad.

My assessment (for what it’s worth).

Probably none of these theories is fully accurate. I reject (3) and (4) completely, for their political unlikelihood. Even if Mr. Comey were a fanatical acolyte of Mr. Trump, he would be insane to do something to deliberately wreck Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. If she wins, he would be toast, of course. But even if Mr. Trump should win, how could he ever trust an FBI director who took official actions for the purpose of defeating a candidate for the presidency? I’m not a lawyer, but I think this would come very close to treason. It simply can’t be.

Ditto for (4). I don’t give Mr. Obama very high marks for political integrity (assuming that the term itself is not oxymoronic). But the idea that he would actually conspire to defeat the candidate of his own party seems almost – how else to say it? – “Republican.” (Only Republicans treat the candidate of their party like this. Democrats, never.)

My choice for explaining Mr. Comey’s recent move is (5). Absent concrete evidence that he is politically motivated in some way, I prefer to assume that he is acting honestly and in good faith. At the same time, it would be schoolboy-ish to ignore the intrusion of politics into law-enforcement. Carrying out the president’s political agenda is the job of any agency-director, but partisan hacks don’t usually have careers that cross party-lines. (Where are Janet Reno and Madeline Albright these days?) Politics must have its limits in law-enforcement. The official who ignores those limits becomes a “one-hit-wonder.”

I do attach some credence to (2) and (1) – probably in that order. I have known a few FBI agents over the years. They seemed like exceptionally honest and not at all political in their work. Most of them could easily move to other non-federal law-enforcement jobs, so one imagines that they have some freedom – within reasonable bounds – to voice disapproval if a decision handed down from on high contradicts the evidence in a case. They won’t speak of this outside of the agency, but things might get pretty hot inside. How far this might go, I couldn’t say without some inside-connections.

I can also entertain the possibility that theory (1) is at least partly correct. Diversions are, as I have mentioned, a favorite Obama-administration tool. It’s not too big a stretch to imagine that this might be their hail-Mary pass to salvage Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. But the serious objections I noted still stand. It’s why this theory gets my lowest probability.

Whatever the case, however, I urge readers to concentrate on the real issues involved in this campaign. There’s a lot more at stake than who tried to manipulate media-coverage.


[1] “She Beat the Rap (The FBI Says she’s Not a Crook)” – http://www.ahherald.com/columns-list/at-large/22643-she-beat-the-rap-the-fbi-says-she%E2%80%99s-not-a-crook

[2] Willie Sutton (1901-1980) was a notorious bank robber who stole an estimated $2 million. He spent half of his life in prison and escaped three times, including once from Sing-Sing in 1932. He became famous for saying he robbed banks because “that’s where the money is.” Mafioso Donald Frankos said Sutton made Jesse James and John Dillinger “look like amateurs.” Later in his life he became a consultant on bank-security.