sábado, 29 de outubro de 2016

FBI director Comey faces fury for cryptic letter about Clinton email inquiry / The FBI's email inquiry is a fitting end to this dumpster fire of an election

The FBI's email inquiry is a fitting end to this dumpster fire of an election
Richard Wolffe
Saturday 29 October 2016 22.40 BST

The latest pseudo-scandal to hit Clinton is unlikely to rob her of the presidency. But it sure isn’t going to impress voters already sickened by a shocking campaign

If it looks and sounds like a scandal, is it really a scandal?

The latest Clinton email flap has all the trappings. With evasive answers, shady characters and FBI investigations, there must be something going on. Right?

Rather like Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, we may not know what’s hidden or where, but it sure looks like the Clintons have been hiding something.

Sadly this reasoning is enough for most Republican voters and a good chunk of independents. It may be enough to depress support among Democrats just at the moment the party needs to drive a high turnout among voters.

But it’s not at all clear what the FBI is talking about in terms of Clinton emails. Some reports suggest they are neither to nor from Clinton herself, in which case we have just consumed a giant nothing-burger. After all, we already know that the FBI has no idea whether the emails amount to anything of any significance.

This raises the obvious question: what on earth was the FBI director thinking when he dropped his letter on Friday making it crystal clear that he knew nothing? As a rule, law enforcement agencies generally don’t publicize the fact that they are clueless.

Beyond James Comey’s extraordinary intervention in the late stages of a presidential election, his letter raises another, more familiar question about the Clintons: why do they attract pseudo-scandals with such alarming ease and frequency?

From the Clinton Foundation to the private email server, from Benghazi to Weiner, from Whitewater to Monica, the list is as long as it is utterly spurious. Whatever crumbs of wrongdoing there may be, they don’t amount to something worthy of Watergate, or even the myriad gate-suffixed scandals since. Questionable behavior is not the same as criminal or even impeachable conduct.

Perhaps the pseudo-scandals say more about the Clinton haters than they do about the Clintons themselves. But it remains true that there is a remarkable contrast between the clouds that hang over the Clintons and those over the Obamas.

President Obama has not exactly luxuriated in eight years of hate-free politics. The haters have thrown their best at him: questioning his citizenship and his secret sympathies for Isis. They even accused him of wanting to pull the plug on grandma.

And yet there have been no pseudo-scandals about his personal life, his friends and donors, or even open microphone moments. As a candidate he was accused of palling around with terrorists, cutting a sweetheart deal for his home, and following the lead of an anti-American preacher. Inside the White House, not so much. The integrity and self-discipline over the last eight years has almost driven the scandal-mongers out of business.

All that’s left are the obvious problems posed by a radical Islamist from Kenya looking to foment a socialist revolution from the Oval Office. Given that he has only two months left in the White House, President Obama needs to speed up his secret plans or else he’ll turn into an even greater disappointment to the right-wingnuts.

The good news for the scandal-mongers is the next Clinton administration appears to be just around the corner. House Republicans are already prepping their subpoenas in case they can launch another several dozen investigations into the newly-elected President Clinton.

In that context, it doesn’t much matter whether the FBI’s Clinton emails amount to anything more than political gossip. The Hunting of Hillary has only just begun.

What does matter is the impact on voters in these final frenetic days of the 2016 election. Recent polling suggests that most voters have already made up their minds about whether Clinton is honest and trustworthy: they don’t believe her. To be sure, they also think the same about Donald Trump, albeit in slightly lower numbers.

But those poll numbers mean that the email pseudo-scandal is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about the candidate. In the same way, it’s highly unlikely that Bill Clinton’s money-making schemes at the Clinton Foundation will affect his wife’s honesty numbers.

For many voters, this email story comes too late. More than 12 million votes have already been cast across the country in early voting, representing around 10% of the likely total votes in this election.

In any case, the polls were already tightening, as Republicans inevitably rally to their candidate, no matter how catastrophically compromised he is with the voting demographic commonly known as “women”.

Clinton’s post-debate highs were unlikely to hold. In fact, numerous studies have shown that elections tend to end where the polls stand two weeks after the conventions, despite all the fluctuations back and forth. That suggests this election will end up as a race in the mid-single digits as a margin of victory for Clinton.

Of course we don’t know what the FBI emails may yet uncover, and we certainly don’t know what turnout will look like on election day.

But we do know that the closing days of a presidential election are anxious times. Campaign staffers are exhausted and fear failure. The media is desperate for one more fix of adrenaline, one more turn of the story to up-end the likely outcome. Supporters on both sides become obsessive consumers of any snippet of information that might tip the balance.

Into this gasoline-soaked period, the FBI director just threw a burning match and walked away. But the dumpster fire was already raging in this shocking election, and the voters who find the whole scene disgusting will likely stay away.

Never mind the emails. This election was already in flames.

FBI director Comey faces fury for cryptic letter about Clinton email inquiry
Podesta: Comey ‘allowed partisans to distort and exaggerate’
Trump campaign seizes on news of review of newly discovered emails
Weiner takes center stage in presidential race about men’s sex lives

David Smith in Washington
Saturday 29 October 2016 19.56 BST

Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair on Saturday led a chorus of Democratic party fury over the FBI’s decision to review a new batch of her staff’s emails, which was announced just 11 days before the presidential election in a striking break with law enforcement tradition.

The Clinton campaign launched an extraordinary criticism of James Comey, the director of the FBI, who faced anger for his dramatic and late intervention in the race, which deviated from FBI protocol. Comey stood accused of betraying the bureau’s political neutrality, and came under growing pressure to make public everything he knows.

The latest twist in a topsy turvy election arrived on Friday afternoon, when Comey said in a letter to Congress the FBI would review whether there was any classified information in new “emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation”. In a carefully worded letter, the director said he wanted to “supplement my previous testimony” about the original Clinton email investigation, which he told Congress had closed this summer, and said: “The FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”

On Saturday, Clinton campaign chair John Podesta said: “By providing selective information, he’s allowed partisans to distort and exaggerate in order to inflict maximum political damage and no one can separate what is true from what is not because Comey has not been forthcoming with the facts.

“What little Comey has told us makes it hard to understand why this step was warranted at all.”

It is “entirely possible” that the emails are duplicates of those already studied by the FBI in its earlier investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server while secretary of state, Podesta told reporters on a conference call, adding that Clinton would not be distracted in the final days of the campaign.

In July, the FBI closed that investigation. Comey said at the time that Clinton and her aides had been “extremely careless” but not criminal with their email practices.

“Director Comey was the one who decided to take this unprecedented step,” Podesta said, “we now learn, against the advice of senior justice department officials who told him it was against longstanding department policy of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“Director Comey was the one that wrote a letter that was light on facts, heavy on innuendo, knowing full well what Republicans in Congress would do with it.

“It’s now up to him, who owes the public answers to the questions that are now on the table, and we’re calling on him to come forward and give those answers to the American public.”

Law enforcement sources speaking anonymously told news outlets the new emails came from devices belonging to Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman and estranged husband of Huma Abedin, one of Clinton’s closest aides. Agents uncovered the emails during an investigation into whether Weiner sent sexually explicit text messages to a teenage girl.

Podesta said Abedin had fully cooperated with the FBI investigation from the start. “She’s been fully cooperative. We of course stand behind her.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, said: “The more information that comes out, the more overblown this entire situation seems to be. That in turn has raised more questions about director Comey from his colleagues in law enforcement circles, to take this extraordinary step just 11 days out from a presidential election.”

Mook highlighted a “startling” Washington Post report that senior officials in the justice department had warned Comey not to go public but he ignored their advice. He also claimed that, based on anecdotes from the ground, Clinton’s supporters were intensifying their efforts to get out the vote.

“Our volunteers are rallying behind Hillary,” he said. “They know what a fighter she is … They’re as upset and concerned as we are here … This has only increased the momentum that we’re feeling among our activists on the ground.”

A jubilant Donald Trump, meanwhile, seized on a potential lifeline for his faltering campaign – on Friday describing Clinton’s handling of classified information as a scandal “bigger than Watergate”.

With barely disguised anger, Clinton herself demanded the FBI explain itself on Friday. “The American people deserve to get the full and complete facts immediately,” she told reporters in Des Moines, Iowa. “The director himself has said he doesn’t know whether the emails referenced in his letter are significant or not.”

The content of the messages is unknown – and may well remain so beyond election day. “Right now, your guess is as good as mine, and I don’t think that’s good enough,” Clinton said.

Comey is a Barack Obama appointee who was deputy attorney general for George W Bush. As well as the Washington Post, the New Yorker reported officials speaking on condition of anonymity saying that Comey was warned by the justice department before sending his letter to Congress.

“He is operating independently of the justice department. And he knows it,” one official told the Post. “It violates decades of practice,” another told the New Yorker. “It’s aberrational.”

Matthew Miller, who served at the department under attorney general Eric Holder, told the Guardian: “I think it was an unacceptable breach of years of department of justice practice and precedent.

“The department goes out of its way not to take any action close to an election that could influence the outcome of that election. The FBI’s reputation for independence and integrity is really at the core to their ability to do their job effectively.”

Miller described Comey’s decision to provide an unprecedented televised statement at the end of the Clinton investigation in July as “the original sin here”. The director then felt able to answer questions from Congress in more detail than usual, but this is “by far the most serious breach of all”, Miller added.

The former justice department staffer said J Edgar Hoover, the original and controversial FBI director, had done worse than Comey, “but not even Hoover did anything publicly in the closing day of an election that could be seen as tipping the scales.”

Republicans and Democrats alike expressed bafflement at Comey’s timing and ambiguous letter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democrat with a history of support for the security agencies, condemned Comey’s conduct. “The FBI has a history of extreme caution near election day so as not to influence the results,” she said. “Today’s break from that tradition is appalling.”

Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said Comey’s letter to Congress “was unsolicited and, quite honestly, surprising”. He too said it created more questions than answers.

“Congress and the public deserve more context to properly assess what evidence the FBI has discovered and what it plans to do with it,” Grassley said.

Some analysts speculated that Comey felt caught in a bind: if he waited until after the election, or if the new review leaked through back channels, he would have been accused of a cover-up. In an internal email sent to FBI employees, he said he was concerned about balance: the need to inform Congress and the American people versus the danger of a misleading impression about emails.

“In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it,” he wrote.

Early voting is under way in 37 states, nearly 17m votes have been cast, and Clinton has a healthy lead in most polls. “I think people a long time ago made up their minds about the emails,” she said at her press conference. “And now they are choosing a president.”

Though his own campaign has been plagued by one scandal after another, Trump has regularly berated Clinton over the emails, and his supporters at rallies frequently chant: “Lock her up! Lock her up!” On Friday he accused Clinton of corruption “on a scale we have never seen before”.

“We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the oval office,” he told a rally in New Hampshire. “Perhaps, finally, justice will be done.”

On Saturday, campaigning in Colorado, Trump made an about-face from his months of criticising the FBI and justice department. “You have amazing people at the Department of Justice, and you have amazing people at the FBI,” he said. “I’ll bet you, without any knowledge, that there was a revolt in the FBI.”

The FBI began investigating Weiner in September, after a Daily Mail report that a 15-year-old girl had exchanged explicit messages with him. By then, Abedin had already announced a separation from her husband.

Trump himself has been accused by several women of sexual assault or inappropriate conduct. He has argued that Clinton “enabled” her husband’s infidelities, and brought three women who accused the former president of wrongdoing to a presidential debate.

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