Fewer than three of 10 Americans trust government to do the right thing always or most of the time, Gallup reports, and the years since 2007 are “the longest period of low trust in government in more than 50 years.” The details emerging about the multiple investigations into Hillary Clinton explain a lot about this ebbing public confidence in institutions such as the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Start with Attorney General Loretta Lynch. A cavalcade of former Justice heavyweights are now assailing FBI director James Comey for reopening the Clinton email file, and Justice sources are leaking that the director went rogue despite Ms. Lynch’s counsel not to alert Congress so close to an election.
But Mr. Comey works for the Attorney General. If she thinks Mr. Comey was breaking Justice rules by sending Friday’s letter to Congress, then she had every right to order him not do so. If Mr. Comey sent the letter anyway, and he didn’t resign, Ms. Lynch could then ask President Obama to fire him.
Our guess is that she didn’t order Mr. Comey not to send the letter precisely because she feared Mr. Comey would resign—and cause an even bigger political storm. But the worst approach is to let a subordinate do something you believe is wrong and then whisper afterwards that you told him not to. The phrase for that is political cowardice.
Ms. Lynch’s abdication began when she and her prosecutors declined to empanel a grand jury. It continued in June after her supposedly coincidental rendezvous with Bill Clinton on a Phoenix airport tarmac. She could have told Hillary Clinton’s husband that the appointment was inappropriate, or refused to let him board her plane. She says the conversation was “social,” but she allowed the ex-President to create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“The fact that the meeting that I had is now casting a shadow over how people are going to view that work is something that I take seriously, and deeply and painfully,” Ms. Lynch conceded at an Aspen forum in July. The Clinton campaign compounded the problem by gossiping to the press that Mrs. Clinton would keep Ms. Lynch on as AG if she wins.
Ms. Lynch also abandoned her post when Mr. Comey staged his July media event dissecting the evidence in the Clinton email case and exonerating the Democratic nominee. The FBI’s job is to build a case, not make prosecutorial decisions. Yet Ms. Lynch later told Congress that rather than make up her own mind on the evidence she would merely “accept the recommendation of that team” at the FBI “and there was no basis not to accept it.”
Meanwhile, the Journal’s Devlin Barrett broke the news Sunday that senior Justice officials and FBI officials disagreed over how aggressively to pursue the Clinton Foundation for financial fraud and influence peddling.
FBI field agents—in New York, Los Angeles, Washington and Little Rock, Arkansas—wanted to pursue subpoenas and empanel a grand jury. Senior officials at Justice, likely political appointees, refused to give the FBI agents permission. But the agents continued to investigate under their current authorities, even after Justice denied their request to read the Clinton-related emails that the national-security team had uncovered.
In August a “very pissed off” Justice official dressed down Andrew McCabe, the bureau’s second-in-command who oversaw the Clinton email investigation, for looking at the Clinton Foundation in an election year. According to the Journal story, Mr. McCabe replied, “Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” The official said no, but the message down the FBI chain of command was to “stand down.”
This follows Mr. Barrett’s previous scoop that Mr. McCabe’s wife received $675,000 in campaign donations from Clinton comrade Terry McAuliffe for a Virginia legislature race. The FBI says there was no actual conflict of interest because Mr. McCabe detached himself from his wife’s campaign, but the appearance of a conflict is egregious. Mr. McCabe should have been removed from the FBI probe.
Democrats and their media allies are now in attack-and-deflect mode, assailing the FBI agents on the Clinton cases as “conservative.” But considering that the Journal story is the first public confirmation in the heat of election season that the Clinton Foundation is under investigation, the agents were handling the matter professionally and discreetly despite Washington interference.
All of this reveals a Justice Department and FBI in turmoil, with some agents in semi-open revolt against their political leadership. This is terrible for those institutions, for confidence in government, and for Mrs. Clinton’s ability to govern if she does win next Tuesday’s election. These events mean she could enter the Oval Office under criminal investigation, with her right-hand aide Huma Abedin suspected of concealing evidence, and Congress investigating these compromised investigations.
The Clinton penchant for deception and secrecy bears much of the blame for this mess, but then so does the President who is currently responsible for the Justice Department.
Mr. Obama sent his own bad political message when he twice suggested in interviews, in October 2015 and April 2016, that Mrs. Clinton’s unsecured email setup did not endanger national security and that she had no ill intent. The norm is for the chief U.S. law-enforcement officer not to comment on ongoing investigations, and Mr. Obama’s prejudgment of the legal questions may have seeped down to the rank and file.
In Mr. Obama’s April 2016 absolution of Mrs. Clinton, the President said repeatedly that “I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI, not just in this case, but in any case.” He added that “Guaranteed. Full stop. Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department, because nobody is above the law.”
If Donald Trump wins next Tuesday, one major reason will be that the meltdown at Justice has shown how manifestly false Mr. Obama’s statements were.
* * *