Hillary Clinton has a unique distinction: She has been exonerated twice after extensive federal investigations, the latest entirely unjustified and the result of a politicized Justice Department. President Trump of course was NOT exonerated in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, which found 10 or so categories of conduct that but for the present policy of Justice Department guidelines would serve as the basis for obstruction-of-justice charges. If Trump is defeated in November he can still be criminally charged the moment he leaves office.
But back to Clinton. It may be hard to remember given then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s voluminous investigative report in the midst of the 2016 election, his testimony before Congress and his intrusion into the campaign 11 days before Election Day, but he found no basis she committed a crime. His subjective comments about poor judgment and negligence were entirely irrelevant (and frankly inappropriate for the FBI, which is charged with finding or not finding criminal conduct). The bottom line: Clinton committed no crimes.
That was not enough for Trump. Based on no new evidence but rather on an undisguised personal vendetta, Trump opened up another investigation. The Post reported:
John Huber, the U.S. attorney in Utah, was tapped in November 2017 by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to look into concerns raised by President Trump and his allies in Congress that the FBI had not fully pursued cases of possible corruption at the Clinton Foundation and during Clinton’s time as secretary of state, when the U.S. government decided not to block the sale of a company called Uranium One.As a part of his review, Huber examined documents and conferred with federal law enforcement officials in Little Rock who were handling a meandering probe into the Clinton Foundation, people familiar with the matter said. Current and former officials said that Huber has largely finished and found nothing worth pursuing — though the assignment has not formally ended and no official notice has been sent to the Justice Department or to lawmakers, these people said.
The coverage of her exoneration has been minimal. The number of stories such as Clinton cleared in witch-hunt probe or Right-wing accusations debunked has been underwhelming. The legitimate media does not seem interested in asking Trump or other Republicans to acknowledge that their accusations were baseless. You would think legitimate media outlets at the very least would self-reflect on their coverage that often treated long-ago disproved accusations as still unsettled.
The hordes of right-wing media pundits and columnists will not fess up for pushing a blatantly false narrative. Because they are held to such a low standard by legitimate media outlets, the voices in the right-wing echo chamber pay no price for joining in the persecution of Trump’s nemesis.
“One of the most common tools of autocrats around the world is to use law enforcement as a weapon to go after political opponents,” explains Ian Bassin, executive director of the nonpartisan organization Protect Democracy, which has litigated against Trump’s unconstitutional actions. “That this misguided investigation has been brought to an end is a sign the walls of our system are still holding; that it was allowed to happen at all is a sign that Trump’s constant pounding at those walls is producing cracks." Bassin adds, “With a president who has boasted wrongly that he can do ‘whatever he wants’ with the Justice Department, we can’t afford to just hope that sanity prevails the next time — and there will be a next time.”
Former Clinton adviser (herself a victim of the WikiLeaks email hacks) and president of the Center for American Progress Neera Tanden says, “The full exoneration of Hillary has been a long time coming. But apparently, we have longer to wait for full accountability for the media’s coverage and entire lack of proportion of these ‘scandals.’” She added, “This isn’t academic as we already see signs of the same kind irresponsible coverage again in 2020. It’s ironic that institutions that demand accountability of others offer so little of it for their own mistakes.”
Let’s not forget the Justice Department itself went along with a baseless investigation. DOJ, as even Comey did, should have the decency to affirm publicly the absence of criminal conduct. However, this is the Trump Justice Department, so Clinton should not hold her breath.
“It’s deeply concerning that DOJ may have been used as a political tool for the president-conducting yet another investigation into Hillary Clinton, absent predication,” says former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance. “When the time comes to do the work necessary to restore and strengthen democratic institutions, defining DOJ’s independence from political interference in conducting criminal investigations will be a priority.”
Congress is unlikely to see fit to add this instance of abuse of power to the stack of additional offenses that might be the basis for future articles of impeachment. That does not mean Congress should shy away from oversight hearings in which this gross misuse of the apparatus of government was used for purely political purposes.
Simply put, Trump used the Justice Department to conduct a baseless investigation of a political opponent, and no one seems to have been held accountable. Legal analyst and professor Maya Wiley observes: “Targeting power of the state on a person you hate or just simply to distract is absolutely abuse of power and a danger to democracy.”
When the time comes under a future president for a housecleaning at the Justice Department and for referrals to state bar organizations, the Clinton investigation should be included. Lawyers have a responsibility to refuse to initiate or to conduct spurious investigations, as occurred with Trump’s inquest into Clinton. That said, at least Clinton can tout her two exonerations. Trump doesn’t have even one.