Both nights of the RNC convention, the crowd has spontaneously called out for Hillary Clinton’s imprisonment. Last night it occurred when Chris Christie detailed Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information. It has positively scandalized many elite figures who are watching.
Former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said, “Embarrassed for my country by this chant at #RNC2016 ‘lock her up.’ Dictatorships lock up the opposition, not democracies.”
VOX media said, “The Republican convention’s fixation on locking up Hillary Clinton is really disturbing.”
And Ryan Lizza, the New Yorker writer whose deceptive coverage of Jeb Bush means his reporting should always be triple-checked, said, “Not a healthy sign in a democracy when the case against your opponent is that she should be imprisoned.”
Politico’s Julia Ioffe said, “The crowd chants ‘Lock her up!’ and Christie says, ‘I’m getting there.’ Since when do Americans advocate jailing political opponents?” I responded, “The ones whose willful and deliberate mishandling of classified info puts American security at risk? Since always.”
Even Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, got in on the act:
Hey, I get that all of these people live in the rarified air where people get away with crimes and profit from cozy relationships with power brokers, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
Or, rather, their ire is severely misdirected.
It is true that mobs shouldn’t cry out for imprisonment, particularly before a trial. But it’s also true that mobs shouldn’t be forced to cry out for justice because their institutions are doing such a horrible job of applying law fairly.
If these folks want to be mad at anyone, they should be mad at FBI Director James Comey, who laid out the case for bringing Clinton to trial in excruciating detail.
Federal law states that it’s a felony to mishandle classified information, whether that’s intentionally or through gross negligence. Even if for some reason you think it would be difficult to prove that Clinton intentionally set up a private server without government knowledge for the purpose of communicating secretly with State Department colleagues and foreign leaders, there is no reasonable doubt she broke the law by the negligence standard. She sent more than 100 emails in more than 50 different threads that contained classified information that was marked classified. Some of these were marked top secret. The server wasn’t just insecure, but her emails were almost certainly accessed by foreign governments.
This is a carelessness that borders on treason.
Yet Comey invented a legal fiction to allow Clinton to escape being held accountable.
Charles Krauthammer explained this as a Chief Justice John Roberts approach, using a “tortured, logic-defying argument” because following the law would be too disruptive to other systems:
I would suggest that Comey’s thinking, whether conscious or not, was similar: He did not want the FBI director to end up as the arbiter of the 2016 presidential election. If Clinton were not a presumptive presidential nominee but simply a retired secretary of state, he might well have made a different recommendation.
That is the most charitable explanation for why Comey said he didn’t recommend indictment after he demonstrated that Clinton had been “recklessly careless” (that is: grossly negligent) in her mishandling classified information, and had lied about every single thing she’d ever claimed with regard to her private server.
Prosecuting her for breaking laws surrounding the handling of classified information would have certainly been disruptive to the already chaotic 2016 campaign.
But while this decision was a win for Comey and a huge win for Hillary Clinton, it was not a win for people who care about justice.
The rule of law is instituted precisely so that victimized groups don’t call for vengeance. Of all things, it brings to mind an earlier 2016 presidential race kerfuffle. In an interview in April with a local New York radio host Trump said his favorite Bible verse is the Old Testament passage, which says one can take “an eye for an eye.”
He said the verse was “not a particularly nice thing,” but he was wrong. It’s actually a really important verse that is about limiting vengeance. It was designed to help the courts of Israel keep people from enacting revenge that went beyond the crime itself.
I’m not particularly troubled by calls to imprison someone as criminally corrupt as Hillary Clinton. Particularly with widespread media toleration of allowing politically, economically, and culturally privileged people to avoid accountability for breaking laws surrounding national security. By way of reminder, nearly 70 percent of Americans believe Clinton acted unethically and 56 percent say she broke the law. This isn’t some fringe position, even if it’s nearly unheard of in liberal newsrooms.
Turning this country into one ruled by men, instead of one ruled by laws that apply to everyone, from the most powerful and wealthy to most poverty-stricken and oppressed, is a recipe for mob outrage. Perhaps our academic, media, and political elites should spend less time mocking citizens who see injustice as a scandal and instead demonstrate what they’re doing to restore law and order.