13 July 2016

Clinton witch-hunting: Republican lawmakers’ favourite hobby


The United States is still reeling from the tragic events of last Thursday night in Dallas, which followed the horrific killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of the police. If there was ever a time when the nation was in desperate need of unity, that time has now come.

Before the news hit, though, Washington was – and still is – embroiled in a partisan dispute. There is a long list of important debates which split political opinion in the nation: health insurance, gun control, the Middle East, to name but a few. Alas, no. This lengthy, expensive dispute concerns Hillary Clinton’s emails.

In brief, the presumptive Democratic nominee used a private email server for her official business when she was Secretary of State, between 2009 and 2013. Those emails, a tiny fraction of which we now know were classified, were not as secure as they would have been on a state email address. In August last year she handed the server over to an FBI investigation.

The result of the investigation was long-awaited, especially given that Attorney General Loretta Lynch agreed to follow its recommendations. Last Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey concluded that no charges should be brought against the former Secretary of State, because there was no evidence that she acted with criminal intent.

Admittedly, Comey’s statement was damaging. The FBI’s year-long investigation found that 110 classified emails were sent on her private server in her time as Secretary of State, 8 chains of which were top secret: the highest classification. Most damning was his phrase “extremely careless” in relation to her team’s handling of classified information, two words which are sure to bug Clinton for the remainder of her presidential campaign. As she has said, it was a “mistake” that she would “certainly not do again”.

Cue the witch hunt from leaders of the Republican party, driven to fury by the news that their adversary would not be charged. Many in the Grand Old Party have built the narrative of a powerful Clinton couple who have never done an honest thing in their lives. Nothing is likely to ever change that. They will not rest until a Clinton is indicted.

The Clinton witch-hunt has a history. In the 1990s, over 50 million dollars of taxpayer money was spent in unsuccessfully trying to charge President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton over the failed Whitewater land deal project. More recently, the House of Representatives’ Benghazi investigation – Congress’ longest investigation ever, costing well over five million dollars – was designed to put Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State on trial. What insight did they glean from it? Next to nothing.

This time round, the Republican leadership began by summoning Comey for a Capitol Hill grilling on Thursday. And grill him they did, the indignant GOP lawmakers firing a series of questions at the unmoved FBI Director. Comey, for many years a registered Republican, and in 2008 and 2012 a GOP presidential candidate donor, explained once more that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring … the second case in 100 years for gross negligence”.

The Republican representatives were using the mechanics of government – taxpayer-funded – to attack their opposing presidential candidate, attempting desperately to keep the damaging story in the news. Those opposed to Clinton would no doubt have enjoyed the session, while others see it for what it was: Republican politicians once again overreaching, by disregarding the advice of an FBI Director in order to continue their pursuit of the blonde-haired, suit-wearing witch.

Most bizarre was House Speaker Paul Ryan’s demand that Hillary Clinton should be denied the classified information which is given to presidential and vice-presidential candidates ahead of the November election. If intelligence officials do not agree, Ryan has even suggested they might pursue legislation preventing her access. Talk about overreach.

One might remind the House speaker that Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Republican secretaries of state under George W Bush, had similar arrangements for their emails. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, amongst others, has argued that General David Petraeus’ mishandling of classified information – sharing journals which included classified information regarding Afghanistan with his mistress, for which the Department of Justice convicted him in 2015 – was no worse than Clinton’s email use. Comey addressed this with full clarity in the hearing, explaining that the Petraeus case involved “obstruction of justice” and “intentional misconduct”: therefore distinct from Clinton’s.

This all happened in a week in which Britain unveiled its Chilcot Inquiry, and in-depth dissection of mistakes made during the Iraq War. The U.S. State Department responded: “We are not going to examine it, we are not going to try to make an analysis of it or make judgement of the findings one way or another”. No such inquiry has or is likely to take place in the U.S., despite their deciding role in the war. Meanwhile, the Republican-led legislative branch will pursue every possible avenue regarding Clinton’s emails.

If the 2016 race was to be run on policies – which seems unlikely, despite Donald Trump paying the occasional lip service – the Republican presumptive nominee hasn’t got a leg to stand on. As opposed to Clinton and the DNC’s detailed platform, the points of which have been debated at great length during the Democratic primaries, Donald Trump lacks any policy substance. All he has is a vague stance about that wall with Mexico – we do not yet know whether he is meaning a literal wall or not – a racist idea to ban Muslim immigration, and the intention of magically negotiating protectionist trade deals.

Many in the Republican establishment are well aware of this. A Clinton witch-hunt is the perfect way to deflect attention off their substandard candidate. However, they are also robbing the American people of important time which should be spent on the issues that matter. The nation needs its politicians to do better.

To quote Clinton’s other major adversary of the past year Bernie Sanders: “Enough of the emails. Let’s talk about the real issues facing America.”

Jack Graham is a political commentator who specialises in American politics.