The latest email craziness

1) This is almost textbook example of media feeding frenzy.  I suspect I’ll be using it in class for years.  The media has gone crazy– and crazy with speculation– when they know so very little.  The two key paragraphs in the Post story (with my highlights):

Officials familiar with the inquiry said it was too early to assess the significance of the newly discovered emails. It is possible, they said, that some or all of the correspondence is duplicative of the emails that were already turned over and examined by the FBI.

Comey made a similar point in his letter, sent to congressional committee chairmen, saying that the FBI “cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.”

In fact, given that the FBI has reviewed thousands of emails and found nothing significant, the odds that reviewing more emails between Clinton and Huma Abedin will find something politically, much less, legally, significant, strike me as minuscule.

Drum with a nice collage of the breathless headlines:

At this point there is literally zero evidence that these emails contain any sort of Clinton wrong-doing, but given the level of coverage you’d practically think they found emails saying, “I really do love TPP, I purposely deleted all those other emails to thwart the FBI, and I decided to stand-down at Benghazi because I wanted those Americans killed.”

Not all that surprising because, from a journalistic perspective– the race had gotten pretty boring.  No more debates, no more interesting revelations.  Clinton with a seemingly solid lead.  We even talked about this in my media class on Thursday.  When you’ve got “news” to sell, that just won’t cut it.  The opportunity to write a story with “Hillary Clinton” and “email” in the headline, well, there you go.  Even if, at this point, there’s no evidence of nothing.

2) Legal scholar Ben Wittes:

When the FBI wants to say it is reopening an investigation, it knows perfectly well how to say that. In this case, the investigation was actually never actually closed, so it doesn’t need to be reopened. The relevance of this letter is likely not that explosive new evidence of Clinton criminality has suddenly emerged.

It is that Comey made a set of representations to Congress that have been complicated by new information, apparently from the Anthony Weiner sexting case. So he’s informing Congress of that fact before the election.

Comey represented to Congress that the Clinton email investigation was “complete.” But as the letter relates, new emails have now come to the bureau’s attention in that appears relevant to this one. (Weiner’s estranged wife is one Clinton’s top aides.) Comey has okayed a review of that new information to determine whether the emails contain classified material and also whether they are, in fact, relevant. And this fact, renders his prior statement to Congress no longer true.

The key point here, in other words, is not that he is “reopening” a closed matter investigation because of some bombshell. It is that he is amending his public testimony to Congress that the FBI was done while the bureau examines new material that may or may not [emphasis in original] have implications for investigative conclusions previously reached.

3) I thought Senator Dianne Feinstein’s response was pretty damn good (oddly, cannot find a cut and pastable version, so I’m going with this edited version:

“This is particularly troubling since so many questions are unanswered,” Feinstein said in a statement. “It’s unclear whether these emails have already been reviewed or if Secretary Clinton sent or received them. In fact, we don’t even know if the FBI has these emails in its possession.”

Feinstein continued: “Without knowing how many emails are involved, who wrote them, when they were written or their subject matter, it’s impossible to make any informed judgment on this development.”

The Democratic senator noted Trump was “already using the letter for political purposes” with just under two weeks remaining until the election.

“Director Comey admits ‘the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.’ He cannot predict how long the investigation will take. And we don’t know if the FBI has these emails in hand,” she said.

Feinstein concluded: “It’s too bad Director Comey didn’t take those gaping holes into consideration when he decided to send this letter. The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results. Today’s break from that tradition is appalling.”

All true.  Partisanship aside, this truly is very questionable behavior from Comey.  Maybe, he really had to say something.  But to just come out with this weak tea and leave it to erupt into full/extreme political innuendo just before an election is incredibly irresponsible.

4) Impact on the election?  Not likely.  This may well hurt Clinton some in the polls, but at this point she has locked up Democratic partisans pretty damn well, and that is the key for her.  There’s almost zero chance there’s additional revelations in the emails to come that are going to cause Democrats to defect from her.  Now, ongoing media coverage definitely hurts, but I also suspect it may well peter out quickly once it becomes clear, there’s likely no there there.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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