The president in 2013 with the new FBI director.

Photographer: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Clinton Can Thank Obama for Neutral FBI

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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FBI Director James Comey said today that there will be no indictments stemming from Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail account while she was secretary of State. Clinton, campaigning with President Barack Obama in North Carolina, has Obama in part to thank.

Specifically, she can thank both Obama's high ethics and his broad disregard for his critics. During his administration, Republicans have accused Obama of all manner of corruption. Yet Obama felt so little to fear from legitimate investigation that in 2013 he appointed a Republican, Comey, to head the FBI. Comey delivered a bracing rebuke to Clinton today, calling her conduct "extremely careless." But he also ended Republican dreams of a Clinton indictment.

"Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information," he said, "our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."

There will be plenty of political recriminations for Clinton. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called the outcome "very troubling." So perhaps Republicans will soon crank up the scandal machinery, which appears to be the only congressional machine they know how to operate. 

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus issued a statement echoing Donald Trump that the decision was rigged:

This is grossly negligent conduct on the part of Hillary Clinton and her aides, but as the Obama Administration has repeatedly shown throughout this process, they were never going to prosecute Clinton’s criminal behavior because they are counting on her to deliver their failed agenda a third term. Between the Attorney General’s private meeting with Bill Clinton last week, to President Obama’s active support for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, the American people will rightly be left second guessing whether justice was really served.

Accusations of corruption have become a first resort for Trump's Republican Party. But imagine how loud the barking would be if the FBI director were a Democrat.

Comey contributed to Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008. He served as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee that dogged the Clintons during Bill Clinton's presidency. Republicans will have a difficult time claiming he's an Obama lackey covering up for Clinton."Only facts matter and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way," Comey said.

If only facts mattered in Washington, we wouldn't have been treated to perpetual hearings on Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service. Clinton will still have to campaign under a cloud. But the FBI director's own partisan identity should help to blunt the worst Republican gamesmanship. Obama's confidence in his own integrity and that of his administration has spared us some noise. 

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

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