James Comey to the rescue?

Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Clinton's Best Hope on E-Mails Is a Republican

Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and U.S. domestic policy for Bloomberg View. He was executive editor of the Week. He was previously a national affairs writer for Rolling Stone, a communications consultant and a political media strategist.
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Hillary Clinton needs help. Her poll numbers have been shaky. Her base of support, Democratic women, is restive. And she is mired in a law-enforcement review of her use of a private server and e-mail account while she was secretary of state.

As Nate Silver wrote at FiveThirtyEight Politics, she has been stuck in a "poll-deflating feedback loop" in which negative news stories drive down her poll numbers, which produce more negative stories, which drive down her poll numbers.

The e-mail problem is at the center of the trouble. It has raised questions about her judgment and honesty, about the security of confidential State Department communications while she was in office, and about how the evolving story will influence her presidential campaign. Mostly, it has raised suspicion that in using a private communications system outside official channels, she put her own needs for protection from domestic political enemies (aka House Republicans) ahead of the nation's need to maintain secure communications and accurate public records. 

Fortunately for Clinton, there is someone who can sort through all this, clear much of it up and send Clinton merrily on her way to the Democratic nomination for president. Even more fortunate, he's a Republican. 

FBI Director James Comey isn't just a Republican; he's a loyal partisan, a contributor to the presidential campaigns of both Obama's 2008 and 2012 Republican opponents. 

Nothing Obama has done in office has expressed more contempt for congressional "scandal" investigations than Comey's 2013 appointment. In a single personnel move, Obama mocked the skeevy machinations of Representative Darrell Issa of California, the former chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who claimed in 2011 that Obama's administration was "one of the most corrupt" in history. In appointing a Republican to head the FBI, Obama made it clear that he had no cause to fear legitimate investigations.

The FBI is now conducting a review of Clinton's e-mail account, thumb drives and private server. (The server was "wiped clean," which stands to complicate the work.) If Clinton's idiosyncratic e-mail practices, which she attributed to "convenience," in any way broke the law or compromised national security, her troubles have only just begun. But if the FBI concludes that her sin was a misguided but ultimately inconsequential effort to shield her personal communications from the prying eyes of Republicans and reporters, Comey's stellar professional reputation and Republican bona fides will aid immensely in putting the matter behind her.

If opponents whine that Comey has somehow been co-opted by Obama or his former secretary of state, the claim will not go far. Just this year, the Justice Department has indicted two Democrats, Senator Robert Menendez and Representative Chaka Fattah, on corruption charges. Members of the president's party enjoy no protection from the FBI.

There is something to celebrate in this. Far from being one of the most corrupt administrations in history, the Obama administration thus far appears to be one of the cleanest. More important, the law still rises above Washington's fierce partisanship. 

If Clinton did something wrong, it won't be swept under the rug. If she's innocent, there will be no show trial -- at least outside Congress. And in the likely event that the result is neither indictment nor exoneration but something uncomfortably inconclusive, it will be up to the voters to determine her fate. 

Politics continues to be toxic in Washington. But so far, the justice system hasn't drunk the poison.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net