After several days of soul-searching, Hillary Clinton has arrived at a hard-to-accept conclusion about why she lost the election: It was all James Comey’s fault. In a conference call with major donors on Saturday, The New York Times reports, the Democratic presidential nominee said her campaign was derailed by the FBI director’s announcements concerning a newly discovered cache of email that crossed the private server she improperly used as secretary of state. “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless, baseless, proven to be, stopped our momentum,” Clinton said.
Comey’s handling of the emails—which were found on a computer belonging to former congressman Anthony Weiner, husband of key Clinton aide Huma Abedin, during an unrelated investigation of allegations that Weiner had engaged in online sex talk with an underage girl—was puzzling and controversial. He revealed their existence in a letter to members of Congress just 11 days before the election, then announced two days before the election that there was nothing in the correspondence to change his conclusion that it would not be appropriate to file criminal charges against Clinton in connection with her mishandling of classified material.
Clinton surely is right that the fresh attention Comey’s statements brought to the email controversy did not help her, although it’s debatable whether his statements played as big a role as she implies. But assuming that late-deciding voters held the issue against her, she has no one to blame but herself. For six months after her email practices at the State Department were revealed by The New York Times in March 2015, she treated the story as much ado about nothing, an annoying pseudo-controversy that was not worth addressing on its merits. Even after conceding that she had made a “mistake,” she continued telling lie after lie in an attempt to minimize the gravity of her actions. That record of mendacity goes a long way toward explaining the amazing fact that voters in some surveys trusted her less than the notorious prevaricator she was running against.
Even in defeat, Clinton is still minimizing, saying concerns about her email practices have “proven to be…groundless.” The fact that Comey did not recommend criminal charges does not mean there was no legitimate reason to be troubled by her arrogant disregard of State Department rules, her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information” (as Comey described it last July), or her consistent dissembling on the subject. Even Comey’s conclusion that charges were not justified without evidence that Clinton knowingly broke the law is legally questionable, since people can be prosecuted for exposing classified information through “gross negligence.”
Clinton still thinks the email issue is bogus, even though she also thinks it cost her the election. On Saturday, according to the Times, Clinton said Comey’s second letter, confirming his conclusion that there is no basis to prosecute her, was “even more damaging” than his announcement that the FBI had found more emails to examine, causing a last-minute drop in swing-state poll numbers. In other words, a conclusion that Clinton views as completely exonerating her was not perceived that way by voters. Evidently they did not agree with her that she should not be faulted for her recklessness and lies as long as her actions fell short of a felony.