And away we go. Less than 24 hours after the Department of Justice declined to press criminal charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server to transmit classified material, members of Congress said that they would ask the FBI to launch another criminal investigation of Clinton, this time over whether or not she lied to Congress.
FBI Director James Comey, who on Tuesday morning announced that despite finding Top Secret information on Clinton’s unsecured server his agency would not recommend a criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee Thursday morning to explain his decision.
When the question and answer session began, Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) did his best to get Comey to call Clinton a liar, and had little success until he read back a statement that Clinton made under oath when asked her about her email set-up during a hearing of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.
In the hearing last October, Clinton responded to a question from South Carolina Rep. Jim Jordan by saying, “There was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received.”
This is now known to be a false statement, and potentially an instance of perjury if it can be shown that at the time Clinton knew that she had sent and received classified information.
“Did the FBI investigate her statements under oath on this topic?” Chaffetz asked Comey.
“Not to my knowledge,” the FBI director replied. “I don’t think there’s been a referral from Congress.”
“Do you need a referral from Congress to investigate her statements under oath?”
“You’ll have one,” Chaffetz promised. “You’ll have one in the next few hours.”
Lying to Congress under oath is, theoretically, a serious criminal charge that can carry jail time; it isn’t one that is frequently prosecuted. However, it would be a reason to drag Clinton up to Capitol Hill for more embarrassing hearings -- hearings that would probably sound a lot like the one conducted by Chaffetz and his colleagues today.
He, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and other Republicans repeatedly and effectively hammered Clinton simply by restating the facts of the case. Gowdy was particularly effective by reading back statements the Clinton had made about her use of the private server and then asking Comey if they were true.
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said there was nothing marked classified on her emails, either sent or received. Is that true?
Comey: That’s not true, there were a small number of portion markings on, I think, three of the documents.
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said, “I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email, there is no classified material.” Was that true?
Comey: There was classified material emailed.
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said she used just one device. Was that true?
Comey: She used multiple devices during the four years of her term as secretary of state.
Gowdy: Secretary Clinton said all work-related emails were returned to the State Department. Was that true?
Though Gowdy, a former prosecutor, was probably the best at it, it wasn’t particularly difficult for any of the members of the panel to make Clinton look duplicitous and reckless because, well, the facts are pretty damning.
The important question going forward as far as the nation at large is concerned is what impact this will have on the presidential race. In a different year, with a Republican nominee other than Donald Trump, it seems plausible that this would derail Clinton’s candidacy, forcing the Democrats to scramble to find a replacement.
Trump, though, is unique -- uniquely frightening, in the view of many -- and that may be enough in the end to persuade voters that, compromised as she is, Clinton is still the better option in November.