Just as there was never any doubt that Bill Clinton had sex with “that woman,” there was never any doubt that Hillary Clinton mishandled her emails. And just as there was never any doubt that the Republicans overreacted to Bill Clinton’s shenanigans, so too is there no doubt that they have done the same over Hillary Clinton’s server. Something about the Clintons sets the GOP to howling at the moon.
First came Whitewater, a land deal in which the Clintons had a modest investment. It was linked somehow to a colorful character who drove a yellow Mercedes convertible and wore powder-blue linen suits and gallivanted around with a much-younger woman. Much was written about this scandal but not, in my recollection, exactly what the scandal was about. Soon, though, it passed into history while more persistent zealots tried to link Bill Clinton to the drug trade. He was, as we all know, too busy for that.
With the Clintons in the White House, Travelgate was next up — and just in time, if you ask me. The office handled White House travel and, given the amount of attention it soon got, it was clearly second in importance to the National Security Council. It was alleged that the wrong people were handling White House travel, and this, of course, was a serious matter requiring, at minimum, oceans of newsprint and, on television, whole weather systems of hot air. Travelgate eventually faded and the nation somehow survived — American exceptionalism at work again.
Monicagate. What is there to say? The facts are well-known, dispassionately laid out in Kenneth W. Starr’s report, a dirty book whose thoroughness vitiated the word “excessive” and proved, without a doubt, that Bill Clinton did indeed have sex with that woman — just as we all knew. The president was impeached, exonerated and sent into history with high approval ratings.
Limitations of space and time force me to skip to Benghazi, where it has been alleged that Hillary Clinton somehow was responsible for the deaths of four Americans and lied to the bereaved and everyone else about what happened and why. This investigation, which like the Jupiter probe went on and on, was the eighth created by the Republican-controlled Congress and, in terms of witnesses called and papers written, may well exceed the numbers produced by all the other investigations combined — but not in vain. The Benghazi committee established beyond a doubt that Clinton was secretary of state at the time the Americans were killed — proof enough, some would have it, of her guilt.
Now we come to Emailgate. Here again, Congress and the FBI have proved that Clinton used a private server, which she should not have done. She may even have lied about what sorts of emails went through it — classified and, if so, to what degree. But the FBI, an agency known for its ecumenical severity — it got both John Dillinger and Martha Stewart — recommended against indictment. This has caused an uproar in the Republican precincts of Congress and in the conservative media. Like spoiled kids on Christmas Day, they didn’t get the gift they wanted.
Even when it comes to the Clintons, this is madness. Hillary Clinton may have lied about her emails, but Donald Trump lies about everything . Still, for the Justice Department to upend a presidential campaign over a matter as trivial as a violation of email policy approaches an anticipatory coup. If there were lies deserving of punishment, let the voters mete it out.
I am tempted to say that historians of the future will have to dope this all out. But they are not up to the job. It should go to shrinks and such, for Clinton has become a human Rorschach: Some people, particularly Republicans, look at her and see the Devil. Their denunciations of her are so at variance with even the contested facts that it suggests a psychosis — congressional panel after congressional panel, investigation after investigation, all of them of the kind once familiar to the good people of Salem, Mass., who knew what it is like to have the purported criminal but not, alas, the crime.
Over the years I have detected wee imperfections in Clinton, and I have noted them in many columns. But she is a colossus of integrity and wisdom compared with Trump. He calls her “Crooked Hillary,” but truly no single American has been as investigated as she has been and found, if not completely innocent, then not guilty. The GOP ought to give it a rest.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.