“Curiouser and curiouser!” said Alice

During the widely viewed Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on Thursday, James Comey made what appeared at the time to be an off-hand remark. Amid the various blockbusters, it received little attention at first. But now, some commentators are beginning to rethink their evaluation.

Before discussing this remark, a little background is needed. It is now fairly well established that Russian hackers attempted to interfere with the 2016 election, mostly in a fairly effective effort to derail Hillary Clinton’s campaign. There remains dispute about whether Putin’s fingerprints are on these intrusions, although glimmers of fire among all the smoke are evident. He certainly has the motivation, given his known fury at Hillary for what he saw as interference in his last election. Moreover there is a well-documented history of similar activities by the Russian intelligence services groups known as APT 28 and APT 29. Hopefully the investigations by newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller will uncover the truth one way or the other.

Putin has been characteristically enigmatic when questioned about this matter. He has alternatively denied it outright, suggested that patriotic private Russian citizens might be involved, and most recently alluded to possible involvement of U.S. hackers. His implication was that poor old innocent Vladimir is being framed! All of this smacks of typical Russian disinformation, though it shouldn’t be construed as a confession.

And now to Comey’s remark. He said that it was vital for Robert Mueller to look into possible U.S. involvement in the Russian interference, but he added that he couldn’t say more in an unclassified setting. Most listeners took that to be a reference to members of the Trump campaign team, but perhaps it also included possible collusion by U.S. hackers too. What motivation they might have to assist Putin is unclear, other than just generally spreading havoc.

When Lewis Carroll’s Alice exclaimed “Curiouser and Curiouser!”, she was remarking upon her strange changes in height. I think the slowly unfolding circumstances around the last election has some similar aspects. Now if we can only find the cookies and, more importantly, who brought them to the party.

Bill did it again!

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.

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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.”

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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.