Nine days after he injected an uncertain degree of doubt into the final stages of the 2016 presidential election with a letter to congressional leaders disclosing a new batch of emails that might involve Hillary Clinton, FBI director James Comey sent another letter to said leaders today basically saying: Never mind!
More specifically, Comey said the FBI had burned the midnight oil to review the emails it found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, and “we have not changed our conclusions expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.” In other words, there’s nothing in the emails to justify a recommendation that Clinton be prosecuted for criminal violations flowing from any of the email, past or present.
The impact on the elections of this latest twist is perhaps even harder to discern than that of the earlier Comey letter. It should be noted, also, that there is a lot of doubt about that earlier impact, since the “tightening” of polls in the presidential contest was probably underway before Comey made the scene with his unexpected intrusion. It is also worth noting that a significant percentage of Americans have already voted, and a much higher percentage are the opposite of undecided. On top of everything else, the voters most likely to pay a lot of attention to the “revived” or “reopened” or “not-quite-dead-yet” investigation, or whatever you want to call it, are people who were not going to vote for Hillary Clinton in any event — many may well dismiss this new Comey letter as politically motivated, just like Clinton partisans mostly concluded about the October 28 letter.
Still, it could not but be a good sign — maybe an omen rather than a game-changer — that the general-election campaign will end on a positive note for Clinton. To the extent that Trump needed a final burst of enthusiasm to pull what would have by any measure been an upset, he is going to have to supply it himself. And for those voters of any and all persuasions who hoped or feared the shadow of an indictment might fall upon a President-elect Clinton, this is at least one bizarre what-if they will no longer need to think about. If she wins and Republicans retain control of Congress, impeachment is still on the table. If Trump wins, he’s already promised to order her prosecution. The normal operations of the justice system, though, appear to have finally let her off the hook. Comey’s reputation and morale in the FBI may take a while to recover, but for the time being, he’d love it if we all decided to move along and talk about something else. And you don’t have to be a Clinton supporter to wish he had decided that very thing before writing Congress in the first place.