It has been more than a year since the infamous news conference at the United Nations, at which Hillary Clinton falsely asserted, "I did not email any classified material to anyone on my email. There is no classified material." For a year the Clinton campaign has raised a number of specious excuses: "It was allowed"; other secretaries did the same (not true); the emails were only retroactively classified (not true); there was no risk classified information might have been compromised (unfounded); and her offenses were not serious (highly questionable).
If it was not previously, even the most loyal Clinton supporters should by now recognize the seriousness of her problems. The FBI does not assign 147 people to investigate something trivial, "allowed" or lacking national security implications.
If it was obvious no case against Clinton existed, the FBI would not have methodically gathered information and waited until the end or nearly the end of the investigation to interview the main culprit. That's exactly what occurred here, according to the Los Angeles Times:
"The interviews by FBI agents and prosecutors will play a significant role in helping them better understand whether Clinton or her aides knowingly or negligently discussed classified government secrets over a nonsecure email system when she served as Secretary of State.
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"The meetings also are an indication that much of the investigators' background work -- recovering deleted emails, understanding how the server operated and determining whether it was breached -- is nearing completion.
"'The interviews are critical to understand the volume of information they have accumulated," said James McJunkin, former head of the FBI's Washington field office. "They are likely nearing the end of the investigation and the agents need to interview these people to put the information in context. They will then spend time aligning these statements with other information, emails, classified documents, etc., to determine whether there is a prosecutable case.'"
If the FBI had determined, like so many Clinton defenders, that there was no THERE, its agents would not bother interviewing the former Secretary of State and now Democratic presidential front-runner.
If there was no pattern of deliberate evasion of classification rules, Clinton would not now be potentially facing legal jeopardy. But, as The Washington Post reported, Clinton was determined to avoid administration directives even about her BlackBerry. ("From the earliest days, Clinton aides and senior officials focused intently on accommodating the secretary's desire to use her private email account, documents and interviews show.") Her contempt for the rules that the lowliest government employee must abide by suggests a shocking indifference to the law and the rationale behind security measures. If it was not her intent to compromise national security, it is certainly fair to say it was her intent to ignore restrictions associated with her BlackBerry and private server.
In the hands of the FBI
With the year-long investigation reaching its conclusion, Clinton's fate -- likely the outcome of the 2016 presidential race -- rests in the hands of the FBI, the one agency arguably beyond the political influence of Clinton or the administration.
Should it criticize or point out lapses of judgment in her conduct without recommending prosecution, she will likely continue her march to the nomination. In a general election against Donald Trump, even Republicans may find that as egregious as her lapse in judgment may have been, the danger inherent in a Trump presidency is so great that the country would be better off in her hands than his.
Should the FBI find, however, that she either intentionally compromised classified material or was negligent in her handling of classified material, it will be compelled to refer the case for prosecution. At that point it may make no difference politically if the Justice Department proceeds or not (although career Justice Department officials would be wary about the perception of covering up or ignoring evidence of a crime). The finding by the FBI that there is the basis for prosecution in and of itself would make her candidacy problematic in the extreme. (Would President Obama pardon her? What would happen if she were elected and then indicted?)
The potential for FBI action, incidentally, should influence her VP pick, if it comes before a final decision by the FBI. With the FBI's action hanging over her head, the VP pick had better be someone who could plausibly win without her and/or govern in her absence.
As the potential for a Trump nomination increases, a great number of Republicans who will never vote for Trump may be faced with the unimaginable. Clinton has become the safety cord to pull, the least horrible of two horrible alternatives and at least a semi-responsible commander in chief, they reason, if Trump captures the GOP nomination. What if their backup plan, Hillary, gets knocked out by the FBI and there is no third candidate?
The potential for a Trump-Bernie Sanders or Trump-Clinton's VP pick general election should panic both Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps Vice President Biden's staff should start figuring out how to parachute into the Democratic National Convention. He may be the backup to the backup for despondent voters.
Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Washington Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.