Republicans were handed a gift yesterday with FBI Director James B. Comey’s political indictment of Hillary Clinton, but they seemed determined to refuse it. However unrealistic, some Republicans must have fantasized that Clinton would be legally indicted, but their disappointment is clouding their political judgment. Comey methodically refuted Clinton’s repeated claims that she never sent classified materials and that she only used one email device and delivered a stinging rebuke of her actions as “extremely careless.” Instead of letting Comey’s rebuke settle and strengthen, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) attacked Comey’s decision as defying “explanation” and said Republicans will hold hearings to cross-examine the FBI director (a really bad idea). And demonstrating once again that even the best political opportunities must be trounced upon as soon as possible, Donald Trump implied Clinton must have bribed Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
While nothing short of leading Clinton in handcuffs on a perp walk would have satisfied some Republicans, wiser ones should consider that Comey’s comments were all the more devastating to Clinton because they were so thorough and reasoned. He explained the difference between what would have been criminal in Clinton’s case and her behavior that would often be punished “by security or administrative sanctions,” a punishment not relevant to the FBI’s jurisdiction in this case. By not letting the FBI statement speak for itself or accurately amplifying its damnation, Republicans have cheapened it and turned it into another partisan freak act in the Washington circus.