Hillary Clinton is the new O.J. Simpson. She may have gotten off, but everyone knows what she did was wrong.
This may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Republicans. Bernie Sanders consistently polled higher against the GOP’s Donald Trump, but Democrats are stuck with the second most unpopular nominee in American political history. The last opportunity to dump Clinton has faded now that FBI Director James Comey is not recommending criminal charges for her mishandling of classified information.
And make no mistake, Clinton did mishandle classified material as secretary of state, in a manner that Comey said was “extremely careless.”
The standard under the law that would have triggered a prosecution was “grossly negligent.” Explaining the difference between “extremely careless” and “grossly negligent” to the American people is like quibbling over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. It creates a permanent cloud over the Clinton campaign.
Even more damaging, for someone who polls suggest is widely viewed as dishonest, the FBI shredded the Clinton team’s cover story that she never sent or received, over her unsecure server, any material that was classified at the time.
According to Comey, the FBI found information that was properly classified as secret at the time it was discussed on e-mail. Even if information is not marked “classified” in an e-mail, officials are still obligated to protect it, which is why, Comey said, people in Clinton’s circumstances “are often subject to security or administrative sanctions.”
Yet, as far as we know, not even the mildest of punishments has been imposed. Ultimately, the reason Americans can never feel confident about the way Clinton’s case was handled is because of the impressions of favored treatment created by higher-ups.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s ill-advised personal meeting with Bill Clinton on a tarmac in Arizona was only the most recent example. John Kerry’s State Department ran interference for Clinton for months by stonewalling on documents. Last October, President Obama, in a “60 Minutes’’ interview, telegraphed the outcome of the investigation. Clinton, he said, merely committed a “mistake,” national security was not compromised, and the case against her had been “ginned up” by politics. On the day the FBI closed the case, Obama and Clinton were campaigning together in North Carolina, reinforcing Trump’s message that the fix was in.
Democrats are celebrating Clinton’s short-term legal victory, but the heavy political toll it takes on her may not be felt until November.
Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.