Assuming you haven’t been off the grid, perhaps on a wilderness jaunt, you are no doubt aware that the FBI is conducting investigations involving presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her husband ex-President Bill Clinton. These are popularly known as Emailgate and Foundationgate. As an aside, the travails of the President Nixon’s Lavender Hill Mob at the Watergate complex in 1972 are a gift that never stops giving. So much from this has entered our language as easy shorthand for nefarious activities.
The two independent investigations have been going on for many months. Emailgate relates to Hillary’s use of a private e-mail server while she was Secretary of State. The allegations are mishandling of classified information, willful violation of the Freedom of Information Act, and violation of laws pertaining to the maintenance of public records. Foundationgate involves charges of favors provided by the State Department during Hillary’s tenure in exchange for donations to the Clintons’ charitable foundation and lavish speaking fees for Bill. These favors reportedly involve large government contracts with third parties that required State Department review and agreement. Of the two, Foundationgate is the more serious in terms of possible consequences.
As far as we know, Hillary has not yet been deposed so neither investigation can be very close to completion. I have long believed that authorities have been deliberately taking their time so as not to unduly influence the election, although regardless, great care is certainly advisable given the potential consequences.
With this background, a bombshell event involving Bill Clinton occurred this week. He really stepped in it and I have little doubt that Hillary is furious. On Monday, Bill met privately for a 30 minute chat with Attorney General Loretta Lynch on her private plane at the Phoenix airport. The meeting is claimed to be an unscheduled occurrence arising from the coincidental arrival of both of their planes.
When an enterprising reporter revealed the meeting all hell broke loose. This was, at a minimum, an incredible lapse in judgment and perhaps an actionable occurrence. For the AG to talk to anyone involved in ongoing investigations is a clear ethical violation. In other circumstances, like an attorney or jury person talking with someone connected to their case, even jail time might be on the table. Bill is peripherally connected to Emailgate, since the Clintons’ home is where the disputed server was housed, but he is the principal figure in Foundationgate.
Keep in mind that this meeting was not voluntarily disclosed. When reports hit the media, the AG responded, “Move on. There’s nothing here. All we talked about was the weather and our grandchildren.” Good luck with that! The security detail at the meeting enforced a “no pictures, no recorders, no cellphones” rule within the perimeter around the airplane where the meeting took place. No one involved discussed or reported the meeting, nor was it put on the AG’s official contact schedule. This is unprecedented, at least since the Nixon era.
Today, the AG announced that she will effectively recuse herself from this entire situation. As usual with lawyers, she did weasel word this a bit, since a real recusal means that she wouldn’t even read the FBI report. But she did specifically say that she will accept whatever the FBI recommends for disposal of these matters. FBI Director Comey is now in charge. He is a straight shooter and has bucked Presidents before. Today’s headline reads “James Comey Just Became the Most Powerful Person in America.”
The consequences of all of this are not necessarily bad, but now the danger is certainly greater. Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on the wall when Hillary discussed these contretemps with Bill? Given the option, I would guess that she would have preferred that Bill had another assignation with Monica.
Still, my guess is that there won’t be a recommendation for a grand jury referral on either subject. Connecting donations to favors is notoriously difficult to prove. Just this week SCOTUS overturned a judgment against ex-Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia for what appears to be an egregious example of gifts for favors. It is widely believed that this precedent will make convicting politicians for corruption virtually impossible. Moreover the situation involving the e-mail server is murky at best. It involves questions of intent that are hard to prove, although there is danger lurking in the testimony of Hillary’s underlings who have a real motivation to avoid prison. More likely is an evisceration of her judgment. That won’t help but it likely won’t destroy her candidacy.