Within a few hours on Tuesday, the presumptive presidential nominees of the two major political parties had made clear their strategies for responding to the FBI’s decision not to recommend a criminal prosecution of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Her rival, Donald Trump, would howl about the injustice of the decision, allege conspiracies and claim that even absent an indictment, the scandal proves Clinton is unfit for office. For her part, Clinton would pretend nothing ever happened.
It took Trump’s campaign more than four hours to get around to issuing anything more than a pair of angry tweets from the candidate’s account on Tuesday morning. But by late afternoon, team Trump had come up with an official response.
The Trump statement did manage to hit the major points of FBI Director James Comey’s blistering presentation of his agency’s findings Tuesday morning.
“The FBI Director laid out today a detailed case of how Hillary Clinton compromised the safety of the American people by storing highly classified information on a private email server with no security,” it read. “He confirmed that her email could easily have been hacked by hostile actors, and confirmed that those she emailed with were hacked.”
It added, “It has also been revealed that Hillary Clinton lied when she said that she did not send classified information. The FBI Director confirmed that over 100 emails were deemed classified at the time they were sent, including emails classified as top secret.”
At that point, Trump might have just dropped the mic and walked offstage. Comey may not have recommended an indictment, but his account of the “extremely careless” treatment of classified material by Clinton and her inner circle was an indictment all by itself.
But it wasn’t enough for Trump.
“Our adversaries almost certainly have a blackmail file on Hillary Clinton, and this fact alone disqualifies her from service,” the statement claimed.
That’s a bit of a leap, but fine.
“She used the State Department for her personal gain, trading favors for cash, and tried to conceal the records.”
Actually, that’s a federal crime Trump is accusing Clinton of, and there has been no evidence presented that suggests Clinton traded “favors for cash” while in office.
Trump also went on to accuse the FBI -- indeed, the entire Department of Justice -- of an illegal conspiracy to subvert justice.
“Bill Clinton didn’t accidentally run into the Attorney General on the airport tarmac last week in Phoenix,” the statement says. “Hillary Clinton didn’t accidentally sneak into the FBI during one of the country’s biggest holiday weekends to testify on her illegal activities, something that wouldn’t be afforded to others under investigation (and on a Saturday of all days). It was no accident that charges were not recommended against Hillary the exact same day as President Obama campaigns with her for the first time.”
Former president Bill Clinton’s controversial meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week definitely created at least the appearance of impropriety. But it’s unclear why the fact that Clinton was interviewed by the FBI on a Saturday (of all days!) is supposed to disturb anybody -- particularly as the interview was announced to the press in advance.
Trump’s final insinuation -- that the Comey announcement was timed for the same day that President Obama would make his first campaign appearance with Clinton -- requires believing that Comey, a Republican who was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York by George W. Bush and then moved up to serve as deputy attorney general in the Bush Justice Department, is conspiring with the Democratic presidential candidate.
It was at that rally mentioned by Trump that Clinton had her first opportunity to personally address the question of Comey’s decision. Not surprisingly, she took a pass. Appearing with Obama in Charlotte, North Carolina, she stuck to praising the man she hopes to succeed and to her standard stump speech.
Obama, likewise, didn’t touch the issue, contenting himself with a multiple jabs at Trump that characterized the presumptive Republican nominee as a noisy political dilettante and a spirited endorsement of Clinton: “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton. Ever. And that is the truth. That is the truth. And that's why I am so proud, North Carolina, to endorse Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States.”
And if history is any guide, this is how it will continue, Trump shouting “Look! Look! Look!” as Clinton smiles and says, “Nothing to see here.”