The scariest development in an election campaign that has threatened the very foundations of American democracy is a group of rogue FBI agents making a last-minute attempt to sway the outcome in Donald Trump’s favour.
Incensed at FBI Director James Comey’s decision in July not to recommend charges over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State, these agents have been leaking damaging material about Clinton to the press, according to multiple news accounts.
It looks like Comey tried to co-opt them from interfering further in the election by sending a letter to Congress on October 28 saying that the FBI was looking at a new batch of Clinton-related emails. In another move to appease the election saboteurs in the FBI’s ranks, Comey released a final report of an investigation the agency conducted on Bill Clinton ages ago. It covered no new ground. Comey’s two bids to appease the rogue agents backfired, however.
News of the letter to Congress shocked Americans, many of whom assumed that such an FBI disclosure so close to the balloting on November 8 meant that the agency had something on Mrs. Clinton this time.
The old report about Bill Clinton — which exonerated him — also hurt Mrs. Clinton. That’s because many voters assumed that the FBI released it to suggest guilt by association — the notion that she was capable of engaging in the same kinds of questionable dealings that he did.
The investigation involved whether Bill Clinton, as President, did anything illegal in pardoning Marc Rich, a financier facing tax evasion and other charges who subsequently made a large donation to the Clinton Foundation.
The political fallout from Comey’s letter to Congress and the release of the report on Bill Clinton was predictable.
Republicans jumped all over the letter to scream that — ah, ha! — the feds finally had the goods on Hillary, and the indictment they had clamoured for would finally be forthcoming. Worse for the Clinton camp, news of the letter prompted throngs of voters to abandon her.
Most were presumably supporters whose backing had been tenuous — people who didn’t like either candidate but had decided to vote for Mrs. Clinton as the lesser of two evils. The flight from Mrs. Clinton when news of the letter surfaced led to the tightening of polls nationally and in key battleground states. Her five-point lead nationally shrank to 1 or 2 points, and Trump caught up to her and even bolted ahead in some states where she had been leading.
Mrs. Clinton has since regained some of the ground she lost in the polls, thanks to news reporting putting the new email trove in perspective.
It turns out that the emails were not ones she had sent or received but were exchanges between one of her key campaign aides, Huma Abedin, and Abedin’s then-husband, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.
The irony is that the drop in Mrs. Clinton’s lead in the polls indicated that the letter had done the damage that the rogue agents’ leaking had failed to do.
Now emboldened, the saboteurs may try for a knockout punch against her. The agents’ effort to interfere in this election is unprecedented in American history, and when the votes have been counted, they need to be crushed like the vermin they are. At the very least, what they did was unethical, and should be a fire-able offence. If they have broken laws prohibiting government officials from using their positions to interfere in elections, they should be prosecuted.
If Trump were to win the election, there would be little chance they would be prosecuted, of course, because, after all, they helped him — and the Donald prizes loyalty. But taking no action against them would create a dangerous precedent, signaling that government officials could interfere in American elections with impunity.
If Mrs. Clinton wins the election, I would hope that she would immediately authorise an investigation into the rogue agents’ actions, and that the U.S. Justice Department would prosecute those who broke the law. Republicans in general and Trump supporters in particular would howl that Mrs. Clinton was taking vengeance against civil servants who believed they were doing the right thing for their country. She should take the heat and authorize an investigation anyway.
Acts of conscience can be honourable and help society under the right circumstances. Dr. Martin Luther King’s civil disobedience helped millions of African-Americans obtain civil rights they had been denied for a century after slavery ended. FBI-agent attempts to sway American elections are not Martin-Luther-King-style acts of conscience.
They are acts of sabotage that, if left unanswered, would undermine a U.S. electoral system that, despite hiccups, has served the American public well for more than 200 years.