There are legitimate questions surrounding the FBI’s decision Tuesday not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. What, for example, is the difference between “extremely careless” – which is how FBI director James Comey described Clinton’s handling of classified information – and the “gross negligence” he suggested was the threshold for an indictment?
But Republicans already are pursuing those questions in the wrong way this week, which suggests that once again, they’re after something more than the truth.
On Tuesday and again Wednesday, House Republicans announced plans to investigate the FBI and Comey in the wake of his Clinton recommendation. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Comey would testify Thursday in front of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel. Attorney General Loretta Lynch might do the same next week in front of a House Judiciary panel.
We’d hope that Republicans would avoid hearings that would further politicize an already flammable case, but so far, they seem intent on doing just that. After Ryan initially took a measured approach Tuesday to Comey’s decision – “We need more information about how the bureau came to this recommendation,” he said in a statement – he later rendered his own pre-hearing verdict. “What bothers me about this is the Clintons really are living above the law,” he told Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly.
Other Republicans followed suit. Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio said the FBI investigation was “steeped in political bias.” Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a cartoon of a Monopoly “Get out of jail free” card featuring Clinton exiting a cage.
The party’s presumptive presidential nominee took things a step further, of course. “Wow!#RiggedSystem” Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday in characteristically middle-school fashion. Later, at a rally in Raleigh, he said that Hillary Clinton had already “bribed” Lynch into issuing a favorable decision on the case.
All of which was sadly unsurprising, given the scorched earth approach Republicans too often take to institutions that don’t bend to their agenda. That seems especially true with anything involving the Clintons, as evidenced by investigation upon investigation costing millions of dollars in a failed effort to find a Benghazi bombshell.
That doesn’t mean Republicans, or anyone, shouldn’t pursue a better understanding of Comey’s recommendation on Clinton. The FBI director seemed to build a substantial case, with new details, for pursuing an indictment. Reasonable people can wonder – as some legal scholars have – why Clinton’s recklessness wasn’t also lawless.
But the foot stomping that followed Comey’s decision suggests that a House hearing will be little more than a political spectacle. And while spinning conspiracies about the FBI might please the Republican base, it’s the same kind of political shortsightedness that’s brought the party to where it is now, captive to its nominee’s next outrageous outburst.