GOP stoops for scandal

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Eugene Robin­son

— The Repub­li­can yearn­ing to pin a scandal on Hil­lary Clinton knows no bounds. Any scandal will do, real or imag­ined. She must some­how be — or ap­pear to be — guilty of some­thing.

They tried Beng­hazi. Boy, did they try Beng­hazi. House Repub­li­cans even put to­gether a spe­cial com­mit­tee, which House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy praised for hurt­ing Clinton’s chances of be­ing elected pres­i­dent. “Ev­ery­body thought Hil­lary Clinton was un­beat­able, right?” he said last Septem­ber. “But we put to­gether a Beng­hazi spe­cial com­mit­tee, a se­lect com­mit­tee. What are her num­bers to­day? Her num­bers are drop­ping.”

To the GOP’s con­ster­na­tion, how­ever, those num­bers re­cov­ered nicely. Ac­cord­ing to the Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of polls, she leads Don­ald Trump by about 5 points; the most re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post sur­vey showed her ahead by 12. Adding in­sult to in­jury, the Beng­hazi com­mit­tee came up empty-handed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chair­man, re­leased a fi­nal re­port last week that found no smok­ing gun. In fact, it didn’t find smoke.

The Sept. 11, 2012, at­tacks on U.S. diplo­matic and in­tel­li­gence fa­cil­i­ties in Beng­hazi, Libya, that killed Am­bas­sador J. Christo­pher Stevens and three other Amer­i­cans should be blamed on the ter­ror­ists who com­mit­ted the as­sault — not on the sec­re­tary of state. Even if she hap­pens to be named Clinton.

So if Beng­hazi isn’t the sought-for scandal, what else might be? Trump keeps threat­en­ing to re­lit­i­gate the 1990s by dredg­ing up Bill Clinton’s wom­an­iz­ing and even the sui­cide of Clinton friend and as­so­ciate Vince Foster. That is a realm peo­pled mostly by con­spir­acy the­o­rists wear­ing tin­foil hats; Trump can go there if he wants, but the rest of the coun­try won’t fol­low.

Let’s see, there’s the Clinton Foun­da­tion and the vast amount of money it has raised, in­clud­ing from for­eign gov­ern­ments, po­ten­tates and moguls. The prob­lem with this line of at­tack is that the foun­da­tion, by all ac­counts, does a lot of good around the world. And it gen­er­ally op­er­ates in a way that Repub­li­cans should ap­plaud, not sim­ply dol­ing out money but in­stead boost­ing the ca­pac­ity of lo­cal gov­ern­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions to solve their own prob­lems.

What other grist for the scandal mill could there be?

I’m be­ing some­what disin­gen­u­ous, of course. There are Hil­lary Clinton’s emails.

As I’ve writ­ten, Clinton was wrong to de­cline a gov­ern­ment email ac­count when she was sec­re­tary of state and in­stead use a pri­vate ac­count, run from a server in her house.

What was she think­ing? I doubt it was “con­ve­nience,” as she still claims. I’ve be­lieved all along that Clinton wanted con­trol. I think she wanted to guar­an­tee that no per­sonal or foun­da­tion emails would ever be­come part of the public record and thus po­ten­tially sub­ject to re­lease. It is cer­tainly true that the Clin­tons have le­gions of po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies who would love to root through the fam­ily’s pri­vate af­fairs. This fact does not, how­ever, make Clinton’s ac­tions right.

But were they il­le­gal? And were they crim­i­nal?

That’s what the FBI and Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers are try­ing to as­cer­tain. From what is pub­licly known about the emails, I am unim­pressed. The salient is­sue is whether she mis­han­dled clas­si­fied ma­te­rial. Clinton’s crit­ics note that David Pe­traeus, a for­mer CIA di­rec­tor and one of the most lauded mil­i­tary of­fi­cers of his time, pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor charge and was hit with a $100,000 fine for that of­fense. But it seems to me that rout­ing po­ten­tially sen­si­tive emails through a pri­vate server is dif­fer­ent from hand­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to one’s mis­tress, which is what Pe­traeus did.

Ob­vi­ously, I don’t know what else the in­ves­ti­ga­tors on the Clinton case might have found out. I do know, how­ever, that Bill Clinton isn’t do­ing his wife’s le­gal prospects any good.

Last week, at the Phoenix air­port, the for­mer pres­i­dent learned that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta Lynch’s plane would soon be land­ing and de­cided to drop by and say hello. I can’t say it’s the most in­ap­pro­pri­ate thing he’s ever done, since that’s a high bar, but it’s up there.

Lynch de­scribed the visit as purely so­cial. But to elim­i­nate any hint of im­pro­pri­ety, she pledged to “ac­cept” the rec­om­men­da­tion of FBI and Jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tors on whether Clinton should face any charges.

Prose­cu­tors have enor­mous dis­cre­tion. The dan­ger for Hil­lary Clinton is that if the de­ci­sion is a close call, Jus­tice Depart­ment lawyers might de­cide that giv­ing her the ben­e­fit of the doubt would make it look as if the po­lit­i­cal fix were in.

Now Clinton has to hope her hus­band hasn’t suc­ceeded, scandal-wise, where Repub­li­cans failed.

Eugene Robin­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at eu­gen­er­obin­son@ wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON

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