As we noted this morning, House Republicans may now be mounting investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails through multiple committees, including the Benghazi select committee, the government oversight committee, and perhaps the foreign affairs committee. Don’t be surprised if the Senate tries to get in the act, too.

There are a few things to understand about this. First, it reinforces what I argued last week, that the attention of Republicans is now shifting almost entirely away from Barack Obama and on to Hillary Clinton. Second, congressional investigations as a tool of partisanship may not be quite what they used to be, at least when it comes to people named Clinton. And third, you can bet your life that the former secretary of state saw this coming, which is why it probably won’t work.

As Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan report, Speaker Boehner is trying to keep this from turning into a circus:

Boehner even employs an aide to keep investigations streamlined. But with three committees potentially gearing up for Clinton probes, a full-blown congressional chase is already on.
Senior Republican sources say the situation is under control, and each committee will have their avenue for exploration if they want it. The contours of each investigation are not set in stone, but they are taking shape. Gowdy’s Benghazi committee will deal with emails that contain information relating to the attack in Libya — and nothing else. Chaffetz, meanwhile, will probe all non-Benghazi emails.
The mechanics of how all this will unfold aren’t clear, and there are significant legal questions over whether Republicans on Capitol Hill can obtain control of Clinton’s email server.

Whatever control Boehner wants to exercise is going to be made more difficult by the fact that there’s only so much these committees can find out. For instance, once Trey Gowdy’s Benghazi committee combs through every email Clinton sent that mentioned Benghazi and fails to find evidence of malfeasance, what do they do then? Give up? There will be a strong incentive to come up with some kind of new accusation against her that they can pursue. The same goes for the other committees. The more desperate they get to find some kind of dirt on Clinton, the more chaotic the whole scene could become.

While they’ll be able to get a certain amount of media attention just by holding hearings and making dark insinuations, for it to have a real effect on the 2016 election (and don’t ever forget that this is the whole point), they’ll have to come up with something concrete. And the chances that the emails are going to give them that are extremely slim.

I promise you this: as she contemplated her political future back in 2009 when she became secretary of state, Hillary Clinton spent at least a few moments considering the idea of future congressional hearings on what she did as a federal employee. She’s no dummy, and she lived through the 1990s, when congressional Republicans started as many investigations and held as many hearings about her husband’s alleged misdeeds as there are stars in the sky.

Clinton may be telling the truth when she says that she decided to use her personal email for State Department business purely because it would be more convenient. But it’s almost impossible to believe that she didn’t also consider the fact that it would give her more control over her communications, and make them less open to the inevitable FOIA requests and congressional examinations. That isn’t because she was intending to plan and execute horrible crimes via email; as she learned again and again in the 1990s, there doesn’t have to be any underlying malfeasance for there to be an endless and politically damaging investigation.

You can apply the same two-handed logic to her decision to delete her private emails. On one hand, she’s right when she says that anyone, even a public official, deserves to have some privacy; no one has a need to read personal missives between her and her friends and relatives if they had nothing to do with official business. On the other hand, she made the decision to delete those emails precisely because that meant they’d never be read by Republicans in Congress, by reporters, or by the public.

How you judge that decision will probably depend on whether you assume that what’s in the emails is benign or nefarious. But unless Republicans want to start sending subpoenas to everyone Hillary Clinton knows on the off chance that they might have gotten an email from her some time in the last six years and that that email might contain evidence of some wrongdoing (which, who knows, they might want to do), then they’re probably going to be out of luck. Whatever you think the email story reveals about Hillary Clinton’s character, it just won’t amount to something that Republicans in Congress can use to bring her down.

Republicans might remind themselves of that by looking back at what all their investigations in the 1990s did for them. They certainly made Bill Clinton’s life unpleasant (not to mention the lives of a lot of staffers who got swept up in them despite having done nothing wrong), and they may have kept his administration from accomplishing some things it otherwise would have. They made for some dramatic political theater. But they didn’t stop him from being reelected, or from leaving office with high approval ratings. And they probably won’t stop Hillary Clinton from being elected president.