The day before Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election of 2016, The New York Times’ Paul Krugman claimed that the FBI—along with “Russian intelligence”—had “rigged the election.” Election denialism is perfectly acceptable behavior on the left. Krugman blamed the “rigged election” on “people within the F.B.I.” who, he asserted, “clearly felt that under Mr. Comey they had a free hand to indulge their political preferences,” by which he meant the investigation into Clinton’s email server. One can imagine the tenor of Krugman’s rhetoric if the investigation had been launched by the administration of Mitt Romney or George W. Bush or signed off on by AG Robert Bork.
Is it still the case that investigating a candidate for wrongdoing is “rigging” an election? Yesterday, Merrick Garland’s DOJ raided the home of a former president, and likely future presidential candidate, in a case regarding “potential mishandling of classified documents,” according to The Washington Post. Is that really it? We have long been told that “mishandling of classified documents” isn’t a serious crime.
When Clinton set up a secret private server to circumvent transparency, likely to hide favor-trading related to her now-obsolete corrupt foundation, it was a potential felony. In that illegal server, the FBI would find 100 emails containing classified information, 65 marked “Secret,” 22 marked “Top Secret,” and over 2,000 emails that would be retroactively marked classified. Many felonies. Unlike Trump, who had the power to declassify any document he wished, Hillary could not. And as numerous experts pointed out, the chances that those documents were intercepted by foreign powers were quite high. No one’s home was raided by the FBI.
Indeed, Hillary’s staff then attempted to destroy all evidence related to that secret illegal server, wiping it and literally using hammers to break phones and laptops—as Comey noted at the time, they “cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery.” Another bunch of potential felonies. Not only were there no FBI raids, but Comey showered Clinton’s staff with immunity.
Comey would make the exceptionally unconvincing case that though everything that Hillary had done was illegal, the most qualified person to ever run for the presidency had merely acted “extremely careless.” More likely, Comey didn’t want to charge a presidential candidate with a bunch of felonies in the run-up to an election. It’s also true that the mishandling of documents had not been treated seriously in past examples. When former Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger stole highly classified documents from the National Archives—memos regarding the Clinton administration’s failed anti-terrorism efforts—he was given community service. No one raided his home to look for more documents.
While these double standards may not induce you to distrust the FBI, what happened next should. Hillary would kick off the entire bogus Trump-Russia investigation, signing off on the leak of a fictitious oppo-research document, which was bolstered, most likely, by Russian disinformation. Yet, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, initial FISA applications used by the FBI to spy on Trump’s orbit “relied entirely” on information from the dossier author Christopher Steele. Not only were the applications riddled with 17 “significant errors,” and not only would the FBI withhold contradictory evidence in the case, but a lawyer for the agency doctored an email and used it as the basis for a sworn statement to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Then again, why wouldn’t an Obama administration that spied on journalists, millions of Americans, and even senators—and then lied about it–also spy on the political opposition? Those same people, some ensconced in the agency, behind this abuse were feeding the media one half-baked Trump conspiracy theory after the next. Investigation after investigation would be launched on that information, and despite lofty promises of Democrats, not a single person in Trump’s orbit would be indicted of anything having to do with colluding with Putin to undermine the election of 2016. It was all a partisan attempt to criminalize policy positions they dislike.
Now we’ve moved on to Jan. 6 committee hearings. The same double standards, of course, are again in play. When Republicans hold committee hearings, Democrats get to name their members. When Democrats hold committee hearings, they get to name all the members. When Obama Attorney General Eric Holder is held in contempt of Congress over his role in sending guns to drug lords, he can laugh it off. When former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro is held in contempt, he is shackled by the FBI. When Democrats support underlying causes that end in riots, they are absolved of responsibility. When Republicans do, they are insurrectionists.
All of this is an effort to cobble together disparate events and statements to create the perception that Republicans led a concerted “coup” against the government. It seems to me, and perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, this raid is part of that partisan effort. We’ll soon find out. But you don’t have to be a fan of Trump — and I’m not; he acted recklessly and unpresidential on Jan. 6, to say the least — to see how these precedents are dangerous or how they corrode trust in institutions. Either you uphold the law for all politicians, as you would the rest of us, or you don’t.
Of course, if Republicans were doing any of this, Democrats would be calling it authoritarian. And they’d be right.