The Republican yearning to pin a scandal on Hillary Clinton knows no bounds. Any scandal will do, real or imagined. She must somehow be – or appear to be – guilty of something.
They tried Benghazi. Boy, did they try Benghazi. House Republicans even put together a special committee, which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised for hurting Clinton’s chances of being elected president. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” he said last September. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”
To the GOP’s consternation, however, those numbers recovered nicely. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, she leads Donald Trump by about 5 points; the most recent Washington Post survey showed her ahead by 12. Adding insult to injury, the Benghazi committee came up empty-handed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman, released a final report last week that found no smoking gun. In fact, it didn’t find smoke.
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The Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. diplomatic and intelligence facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans should be blamed on the terrorists who committed the assault – not on the secretary of state. Even if she happens to be named Clinton.
So if Benghazi isn’t the sought-for scandal, what else might be? Trump keeps threatening to relitigate the 1990s by dredging up Bill Clinton’s womanizing and even the suicide of Clinton friend and associate Vince Foster. That is a realm peopled mostly by conspiracy theorists wearing tinfoil hats; Trump can go there if he wants, but the rest of the country won’t follow.
Let’s see, there’s the Clinton Foundation and the vast amount of money it has raised, including from foreign governments, potentates and moguls. The problem with this line of attack is that the foundation, by all accounts, does a lot of good around the world. And it generally operates in a way that Republicans should applaud, not simply doling out money but instead boosting the capacity of local governments and organizations to solve their own problems.
What other grist for the scandal mill could there be?
I’m being somewhat disingenuous, of course. There are Hillary Clinton’s emails.
As I’ve written, Clinton was wrong to decline a government email account when she was secretary of state and instead use a private account, run from a server in her house.
What was she thinking? I doubt it was “convenience,” as she still claims. I’ve believed all along that Clinton wanted control. I think she wanted to guarantee that no personal or foundation emails would ever become part of the public record and thus potentially subject to release. It is certainly true that the Clintons have legions of political enemies who would love to root through the family’s private affairs. This fact does not, however, make Clinton’s actions right.
But were they illegal? And were they criminal?
That’s what the FBI, which interviewed Clinton on Saturday, and Justice Department lawyers are trying to ascertain. From what is publicly known about the emails, I am unimpressed. The salient issue is whether she mishandled classified material. Clinton’s critics note that David Petraeus, a former CIA director and one of the most lauded military officers of his time, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was hit with a $100,000 fine for that offense. But it seems to me that routing potentially sensitive emails through a private server is different from handing classified information to one’s mistress, which is what Petraeus did.
Obviously, I don’t know what else the investigators on the Clinton case might have found out. I do know, however, that Bill Clinton isn’t doing his wife’s legal prospects any good.
Last week, at the Phoenix airport, the former president learned that Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s plane would soon be landing and decided to drop by and say hello. I can’t say it’s the most inappropriate thing he’s ever done, since that’s a high bar, but it’s up there.
Lynch described the visit as purely social. But to eliminate any hint of impropriety, she pledged to “accept” the recommendation of FBI and Justice investigators on whether Clinton should face any charges.
Prosecutors have enormous discretion. The danger for Hillary Clinton is that if the decision is a close call, Justice Department lawyers might decide that giving her the benefit of the doubt would make it look as if the political fix were in.
Now Clinton has to hope her husband hasn’t succeeded, scandal-wise, where Republicans failed.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.