FBI’s Comey ignites new fury with Clinton’s “damn emails”

Last year, during the October 12 Democratic Party debate, Bernie Sanders lit up the stage with an insightful comment about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal server for emails when she was secretary of State. “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails,” Sanders said.

“Enough of the emails – let’s talk about the real issues facing the American people.”

How much of this election so far has been about the “real issues facing the American people?” To Clinton’s and Sanders’ credit, they have raised substantive issues facing the country and world, issues that people care about and which affect their daily lives – even if the media has chosen to focus on the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump as their daily fare of how-low-can-you-go politics.

The Republicans on cue expressed outrage at FBI Director James Comey’s decision not to indict the presumptive Democratic nominee. But at his July 5 media conference, Comey did not do any favors to Clinton or Democrats when he accused her and her State Department team of being “extremely careless” in handling classified emails. The GOP and Trump will have a field day with Comey’s statements, which fits right into the far-right narrative of Hillary Clinton being untrustworthy. This viewpoint has gained currency among the public for many different reasons, including reasons of Hillary and her husband Bill Clinton’s own making. Bill Clinton’s stupid tarmac drop-in to visit with Attorney General Loretta Lynch is a case in point. But there are other issues at work that have shaped this view.

In what was called “The most thorough, profound and moving defense of Hillary Clinton I have ever seen,” a DailyKos blogger reposted what seemed to have started as a Facebook post by Michael Arnovitz but can also be found on medium.com under the title, “Thinking about Hillary – a plea for reason.” It is an 18-minute read that every person who cares about the country needs to look at. It is an incisive analysis of the birth of the 25-year “congenital liar” narrative and attack campaign by the extreme right against Hillary, how sexism plays into its widespread acceptance and the fact that there is really no evidence to support it.

Unfortunately, many progressive-left individuals also accept this narrative and have helped to spread it, mainly because they do not like Hillary Clinton, her policies and stances. Instead of arguing on the issues, there are some who have chosen to repeat a far-right-devised character assassination. It is one thing to disagree with Clinton on issues, which I have, and to soberly assess her flaws and shortcomings (as well as see how she has changed for the better on a number of issues over the years). It is something else to feed into archconservative William Safire’s storytelling. Despite his early pledge to stick to the issues, Sanders has unfortunately, at times, helped to feed this view as well. He also, however, seems to be moving solidly in the direction of joining forces with his rival, pledging to defeat Trump. He sees how high the stakes are.

For anyone concerned about the outcome of the November elections, shouldn’t the far right’s lies and distortions be debunked and their real agenda of serving the billionaires and corporate class and rolling back democratic rights be exposed, as opposed to aiding and abetting it? In his blog, Sam Webb, whose writing often appears on this website, expressed surprise as to the reaction by some on the left to the FBI’s announcement:

“The FBI director’s recommendation is in: Hillary showed very bad judgment, but she didn’t break the law. The rightwing isn’t happy and, not surprisingly, won’t put it behind them. Its path to victory in November, after all, is very narrow, resting on demagogy, racism, nativism, and Hillary-hating – and, of course, voter suppression.

“But what surprised me was the reaction of some on the left: they won’t put it to bed either. I understand that Hillary isn’t their first choice. Nor is she an ideal candidate.

“But it escapes me how their reaction to yesterday’s announcement serves any good purpose. It certainly does nothing to defeat Trump and the Republican gang down ticket. But isn’t crushing Trump at the polls the main thing at this stage of the election process? Isn’t it the overarching task for anybody who cares about the country’s future? Time to pivot.”

Tuesday was supposed to be a breakthrough day for Clinton as she and President Obama appeared together in North Carolina in their first joint campaign event. Obama gave a ringing speech for his former Secretary of State just as the FBI director stood before the media and made his pronouncement. Comey, who has served under Republican administrations and donated to Republican presidential candidates, overstepped his role by making pronouncements about Clinton and her team without making charges, and therefore giving her the opportunity to refute them.

In an interview with The Hill, Matt Miller, former Department of Justice spokesman under Eric Holder, called Comey’s news conference “appalling.”

“Jim Comey basically presented himself as the prosecutor and the ultimate judge and jury,” Miller said. “He is out there passing judgments on facts that the FBI has gathered in a way that is really unfair to Secretary Clinton.”

Although much sound and fury will come from the Republicans’ opposition to Comey’s decision, his statements also fueled their longstanding line. NPR’s Domenico Montanero put it this way, “Comey’s forceful televised statement reinforced the idea that the Clintons are always skirting just to the edge of what’s legal.”

If the Republicans succeed in making this election about Clinton and her “damn emails,” then “the real issues facing the American people” will never be addressed. Putting the focus on those issues is a big job, and millions have to participate in demanding it. My good friend who is a Mad Men fanatic loves to quote Don Draper: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” Let’s expose Trump and the Republican agenda. Let’s challenge wrong assumptions about Clinton, and let’s shift the conversation to what the issues really are and what people need to make their lives better.  

Photo: Cliff Owen/AP


Teresa Albano
Teresa Albano

Teresa Albano was the first woman editor-in-chief of People’s World, 2003-2010, leading the transition from weekly print to daily online publishing and establishing PW’s social media presence. Albano has been a staff writer for People’s World covering political, labor and social justice issues for more than 25 years. She traveled throughout the U.S. and abroad, including India, Cuba, Angola, Italy, and to Paris to cover the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. An award-winning journalist, Albano has been honored for her writing by International Labor Communications Association, National Federation of Press Women and Illinois Woman Press Association.