Our dual-track system of justice
— One of Donald Trump’s favorite words is “rigged.” From trade deals to the GOP nominating process, everything is rigged.
And the presumptive Republican presidential nominee got the chance to use the “r-word” liberally last week when FBI Director James Comey put on a bipolar press briefing about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of multiple private email servers while acting as secretary of state.
“We have a rigged system, folks,” Trump told supporters in Raleigh, N.C., insisting that Clinton had been protected by the political establishment.
From Mexican immigrants to banning Muslims, Trump is wrong about many things. But unfortunately, he is not wrong about the fact that Clinton should have faced charges and that powerful forces intervened to make sure that didn’t happen.
Comey spent much of his public statement making a persuasive case that Clinton had been “extremely careless in her handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” He even made clear that the federal statute at issue didn’t require acting intentionally but in a “grossly negligent way.” And as legal experts pointed out in recent days, when you look up the phrase “gross negligence” in a legal dictionary, you get something along the lines of ... wait for it ... extreme carelessness. The question of whether to bring charges should have been an open-and-shut case.
Yet James Comey evidently failed to persuade himself.
Still, this is not about the FBI director. Nor is it even about Hillary Clinton’s guilt or innocence, or what Bill Clinton said to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on that airplane in Phoenix. We’re beyond all that.
I understand why the anti-Clinton forces are going ballistic. Bill and Hillary Clinton are the Houdinis of American politics. Present them with a perilous and seemingly impossible situation, and they’ll escape. So now that Hillary has skated on the email scandal, it’s tempting to make the story about her.
Did Clinton break the law? Should Comey have come to a different conclusion, and recommended that she be charged — as the federal statutes would seem to allow — with gross negligence in the handling of delicate material? Will the Clintons ever be held accountable for any wrongdoing? These are the questions that Americans are asking.
But what we should really be focused on is something bigger which is, in the final analysis, more important than the amazing Arkansas escape artists. Namely this: What are we going to do about a criminal justice system in this country that is so deeply flawed that it’s made a mockery out of ideas that should be sacred. They include the principle that no one is above the law and there is only one system of justice for all people — rich or poor, powerful or powerless.
Something important in our society is broken, and it’s time to acknowledge that it’s out of order and fix it.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., gets it. At a House Oversight Committee hearing on Comey’s decision not to recommend charges against Clinton, Gowdy expertly grilled the FBI director. After effectively making the point that — even if the statute had required “intent” — such intent would not have been difficult to prove in this case, given the lengths to which Clinton had gone to keep her emails secret, which included deleting with her lawyer’s help about 30,000 of them, the former federal prosecutor zeroed in on the real problem. Or as he put it, his “real fear.”
What Gowdy worries about, and what we should all worry about, is “this double-track justice system that is rightly or wrongly perceived in this country, that if you are a private in the Army and you email yourself classified information, you will be kicked out. But if you are Hillary Clinton and you seek a promotion to commander in chief, you will not be.”
Gowdy ended his remarks by challenging Comey to make “the reasonable person” understand why the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee “appears to be treated differently than the rest of us would be.”
The reason is ugly. But it’s also obvious. It’s because there are always other considerations that help determine whether, for instance, in this case, charges should be brought about a person who could well be on the brink of being elected president. Had that happened here, we’d be looking at political upheaval. Some people aren’t ready for that. So they opt to simply preserve the status quo. It’s not justice. But it’s the real world. Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syndicated columnist from the Washington Post. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.