Comey vs. Clinton



01, Nov 2016

Just when it seemed no further event would impact the Presidential election, James Comey, director of the FBI, re-entered the scene. The FBI obtained a warrant to investigate newly found emails for classified information casting a shadow on Clinton’s prospects. Comey’s actions have been harshly criticized, yet some opine he had no choice. With just a week to go, the 2016 elections have tested the opinion polls in an unprecedented manner.

What is the ’unbelievable’ move by the FBI?

  • They have obtained a warrant to investigate new emails potentially related to Hillary Clinton, according to law enforcement officials. And they have talked about it, with less than 10 days remaining for the Election Day (November 8).
  • James Comey, the director of the FBI shocked members of the US political arena when he revealed the discovery of the new emails and said his agency would investigate them to check for classified information.
  • Comey, in his letter, is said to have been unclear about who was the sender/recipient of the mails and their relevance to the earlier investigation which had concluded without pressing charges.
  • These emails are said to have been unearthed during a separate investigation of former Democratic U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner, the ex-husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. He was being investigated over allegations that he had been ‘sexting’ (sex chatting) with a 15-year old girl.
  • It was while investigating Weiner for this charge that the FBI members realized that Abedin had made use of the same laptop to send Clinton some emails and they have begun to check these messages for the presence of classified information, according to sources.
  • Clinton called out for a speedy release of information uncovered in the probe and so did the Democrats. However, the FBI committed to nothing beyond saying that the process had begun.

Why could it not have come at a worse time for Clinton?

  • Polls showed her lead to be narrowing even before the new emails made news. The effect of the news was carried over to financial markets where the US dollar’s worth fell in relation to other major currencies in early Asian trading on Monday.
  • An ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Sunday revealed Clinton’s margin over Trump was a meager 1 point and that nearly a third of the likely voters were less certain on supporting Clinton following news of Comey’s letter.
  • This election has been largely about choosing “the lesser of the two evils”. Clinton was ranked quite low on honesty – some studies found only 11 percent of the voters say Clinton is “honest and worthy of trust”, this is even lower than the 16 percent who said Trump had these qualities – and this kind of a last-minute news gives Trump’s campaign a lot of ammunition.
  • Independent voters are known to oscillate more easily and the combination of bad news from Clinton and no news from Trump this past weekend has hit her harder than before.
  • The uneasiness is expected to exist even if she wins the election and spoil her ascension to Presidency.

And now there is some (negative) news on Donald Trump too.

  • Trump now has to deal with his own set of allegations as New York Times has reported a tax evasion strategy he employed which his own lawyers said would be “deemed improper” by an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) audit. The IRS is the U.S. government agency responsible for tax collection and tax law enforcement.
  • The Trump-Russia link is also in the news yet again.

When in the past has Comey been in the spotlight?

Vox, as a part of its analysis of Comey’s undesirable situation has presented the various arguments in defence of Comey’s decision.

  • He was in a tough situation and either choice would lead to backlash sooner or later. It was also said that he was informed about the emails only on Thursday.
  • It has been argued in defence of Comey that this new information followed his sworn testimony in July in which he concluded that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case. This new development meant he had to notify Congress that he had to reconsider his testimony.
  • It has also been pointed out that Comey seemed to have believed that if he did not reveal this development, someone in the FBI would have made it known before the election.
  • He had faced severe criticism when earlier this year he chose not to recommend charges against Clinton. If Trump’s loud denouncement was not enough, there began to surface anonymous reports of some FBI members expressing unhappiness with the way Comey dealt with the Clinton case. Withholding the information would only have invited more ire and even if the information did not matter, he would have to confront accusations of staging a cover-up. A senior law official reportedly said Comey took this decision “out of an abundance of caution
  • Comey had to present himself and the FBI as an independent body that preserves its integrity. Given the intricacies of the situation he acted in a way most compatible with his duty.

Note: CNN reports that the FBI was aware of the ‘new’ emails weeks before Comey broke the news.

Where is the criticism coming from?

Some lawmakers and law enforcement officials criticized Comey for highlighting the development so near to the election and for deviating from protocols.

  • Former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg told NPR that Comey would have done better to go through these emails and then announce their existence. By doing so in this manner, the director of FBI has merely stirred speculation without providing the facts.
  • Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said – and NPR verified – that Comey acted against General Loretta Lynch’s suggestion. This, he added, was non-compliance with the protocol. While Gonzales acknowledged that all the facts were yet to be known he added, “The FBI director has been out on his own, quite frankly, with respect to this investigation.”
  • Another officer who had worked in law enforcement said Comey’s mishandling was apparent at the time of the press conference he held in July. He criticized the manner in which Comey had revealed too much information – something that was a drastic departure from the proper. This argument was countered by Former Justice Department official Carrie Cordero who pointed out that circumstance – especially the Bill Clinton-Lynch meeting which placed the FBI in a precarious position – required Comey to do as he did.

Who else has reacted?

  • U.S. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid warned Comey that the latter’s action might have been a violation of the Hatch Act. This Act restricts political involvement of federal employees, for example, they are not allowed to hold public office or use their power to manipulate the outcome of the election. Richard Painter, professor and former chief White House ethics lawyer said he had filed a complaint pertaining to Comey’s actions with the agency that handles Hatch Act violations. However, Daniel Richman, professor and former federal prosecutor said it was absurd to link Comey’s actions with a motive to affect the election outcome. Richman said as long as Comey’s critics were bereft of proof their accusations remained baseless.
  • John Podesta and Robby Mook, Clinton campaign chairman and manager shared Zeidenberg’s opinion. Podesta added, “We are calling on Mr. Comey to come forward and explain what’s at issue here.
  • Dozens of former federal prosecutors signed a letter to criticize Comey’s actions as a violation of the justice department policy.
  • Clinton echoed the accusations expressed by her campaign. She and her running mate Tim Kaine added this was a “distraction”. Kaine said two main protocol violationsgoing against the justice department and talking about an investigation while it was being carried out – had occurred.
  • Trump and his campaign made the most of the situation. They hailed Comey’s actions. For Trump, it provided the opportunity to remind people yet again of the degree of corruption Clinton is capable of. He highlighted the power of the vote as the sole means to beat corruption. Trump calls her ‘crooked Hillary’.

How reliable are the American opinion polls?

Current constraints

  • The cell phone boom and decline in willing participants have increased the cost of high-quality research and the alternatives chosen are less tried and tested.
  • The persistent problem of identifying likely voters has just gotten harder. Recent mistakes stand out. The landline polling method proved a failure because it missed about 60 percent of the American public; that is three times more than it would have in 2008.
  • The problem with reaching participants on cell phones is cost. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not allow calling of cell phones through automatic dialers and manual dialing means spending a significantly greater amount on the interviewer.

The organizations such as Pew Research Center that go ahead with cell phone interviews are fewer but more reliable.

  • Despite falling response rates, good representative samples have been collected most of the time. But as the response rates continue to drop, one needs to accommodate a greater margin.
  • Internet polls which are used by many election pollsters are yet to prove their consistent accuracy though in the Brexit case they appeared to have been nearer to the correct outcome. Polls have been usually right so far and are generally known to improve in accuracy as the D-day draws nearer.

This time however, it may be best to wait and watch. One week to go before America decides which of the ‘two evils’ it wants as President.

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Tags | James Comey Clinton Comey Presidential election