Behind the Headlines

We are being bombarded by “news” about the horserace that is the presidential election, and are pretty much sick of it. Unfortunately, this means that we are ignoring the real stories behind the headlines. I mention this because we are missing a potentially generous serving of irony.

For example, the headlines are blaring the news that Donald Trump managed to raise $ 51 million during the month of June, compared to the paltry $ 3.2 million he raised in May. But I haven’t seen any news pointing out that Trump has completely flip-flopped on his promise to self-fund his campaign so that he will not be beholden to special interests. You know, special interests like fellow casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has promised to donate $ 100 million to Trump’s campaign. We already know that Trump will do almost anything for money. Who donated all this money to Trump, and what will he give them in return?

Another example is the announcement by FBI Director James Comey that Hillary Clinton did not break any laws by using a private email server. But then Comey did something unprecedented — he proceeded to attack Clinton for being “extremely careless”, stupid, and arrogant. As Electoral Vote puts it:

That is not the way the FBI is supposed to work. If someone is innocent, then the FBI is not supposed to besmirch that person’s reputation. If the target is guilty, then he or she should be indicted; otherwise, the investigation should be closed with a simple statement that no charges will be brought. Until now, this was always the way the FBI worked.

But Comey, who was originally appointed by George W Bush, didn’t stop there. He also said that

the FBI uncovered no “direct evidence” that foreign powers had hacked Clinton’s email server. Did he have indirect evidence? Any evidence at all? If not, how is that different from his saying: “In another investigation, we have uncovered no ‘direct evidence’ that Donald Trump paid millions of dollars in bribes to the mafia for labor peace at his construction sites.” If there is no evidence, the FBI is not supposed to even bring up the subject.

As a former director of the Justice Department pointed out, Comey ignored the rule of law and blatantly politicized what was supposed to be a non-partisan investigation. It is not up to the FBI to decide guilt or innocence, that is reserved by our constitution for the courts. When the FBI decides it does not have enough evidence to bring charges, “it has the responsibility to not besmirch someone’s reputation by lobbing accusations publicly instead.”

He recklessly speculated that Clinton’s email system could have been hacked, even while admitting he had no evidence that it was. This conjecture, which has been the subject of much debate and heated allegations, puts Clinton in the impossible position of having to prove a negative in response.

Why did Comey do this?

Comey argued that his statement was appropriate because this case was a matter of unusual public interest. But the department investigates cases involving extreme public interest all the time — suspected terrorist acts, alleged civil rights violations by police and possible crimes by financial institutions, for example. It is for precisely these situations that the rules exist, so that the department cannot speak outside the bounds of court when it does not bring charges.

One might claim that Clinton should not receive special treatment from the government, but that works both ways. The rule of law also means that she should not get worse treatment than anyone else, either. Instead Comey took himself outside the rule of law, becoming not just the police, but also prosecutor, judge, and jury. That is a very dangerous precedent in a country that prides itself on guaranteeing that people are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law (and not in the fickle court of public opinion).

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Political Irony