Victor Davis Hanson — National Review Jan 30, 2018
What exactly were top officials in the FBI and DOJ doing during the election of 2016? The Page-Strzok text exchanges might offer a few answers. Or, as Lisa Page warned her paramour as early as February 2016, at the beginning of the campaign and well before the respective party nominees were even selected:
One more thing: she [Hillary Clinton] might be our next president. The last thing you need us going in there loaded for bear. You think she’s going to remember or care that it was more doj than fbi?
The traditional way of looking at the developing scandals at the FBI and among holdover Obama appointees in the DOJ is that the bizarre atmospherics from candidate and President Trump have simply polarized everyone in Washington, and no one quite knows what is going on.
Another, more helpful, exegesis, however, is to understand that if we’d seen a Hillary Clinton victory in November 2016, which was supposed to be a sure thing, there would now be no scandals at all
That is, the current players probably broke laws and committed ethical violations not just because they were assured there would be no consequences but also because they thought they’d be rewarded for their laxity.
On the eve of the election, the New York Times tracked various pollsters’ models that had assured readers that Trump’s odds of winning were respectively 15 percent, 8 percent, 2 percent, and less than 1 percent. Liberals howled heresy at fellow progressive poll guru Nate Silver shortly before the vote for daring to suggest that Trump had a 29 percent chance of winning the Electoral College
Hillary Clinton herself was not worried about even the appearance of scandal caused by transmitting classified documents over a private home-brewed server, or enabling her husband to shake down foreign donations to their shared foundation, or destroying some 30,000 emails. Evidently, she instead reasoned that she was within months of becoming President Hillary Clinton and therefore, in her Clintonesque view of the presidency, exempt from all further criminal exposure. Would a President Clinton have allowed the FBI to reopen their strangely aborted Uranium One investigation; would the FBI have asked her whether she communicated over an unsecure server with the former president of the United States?
Former attorney general Loretta Lynch, in unethical fashion, met on an out-of-the-way Phoenix tarmac with Bill Clinton, in a likely effort to find the most efficacious ways to communicate that the ongoing email scandal and investigation would not harm Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. When caught, thanks to local-news reporters who happened to be at the airport, Lynch sort of, kind of recused herself. But, in fact, at some point, she had ordered James Comey not to use the word “investigation” in his periodic press announcements about the FBI investigation.
How could Lynch in the middle of an election have been so silly as to allow even the appearance of impropriety? Answer: There would have been no impropriety had Hillary won — an assumption reflected in the Page-Strzok text trove when Page texted, about Lynch, “She knows no charges will be brought.” In fact, after a Clinton victory, Lynch’s obsequiousness in devising such a clandestine meeting with Bill Clinton may well have been rewarded: Clinton allies leaked to the New York Times that Clinton was considering keeping Lynch on as the attorney general.
How could former deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe assume an oversight role in the FBI probe of the Clinton email scandal when just months earlier his spouse had run for state office in Virginia and had received a huge $450,000 cash donation from Common Good VA, the political-action committee of long-time Clinton-intimate Terry McAuliffe?
Again, the answer was clear. McCabe assumed that Clinton would easily win the election. Far from being a scandal, McCabe’s not “loaded for bear” oversight of the investigation, in the world of beltway maneuvering, would have been a good argument for a promotion in the new Clinton administration. Most elite bureaucrats understood the Clinton way of doing business, in which loyalty, not legality, is what earned career advancement.
Some have wondered why the recently demoted deputy DOJ official Bruce Ohr (who met with the architects of the Fusion GPS file after the election) would have been so stupid as to allow his spouse to work for Fusion — a de facto Clinton-funded purveyor of what turned out to be Russian fantasies, fibs, and obscenities?
Again, those are absolutely the wrong questions. Rather, why wouldn’t a successful member of the Obama administrative aparat make the necessary ethical adjustments to further his career in another two-term progressive regnum? In other words, Ohr rightly assumed that empowering the Clinton-funded dossier would pay career dividends for such a power couple once Hillary was elected. Or, in desperation, the dossier would at least derail Trump after her defeat. Like other members of his byzantine caste, Ohr did everything right except that he bet on the wrong horse.
What about the recently reassigned FBI lawyer Lisa Page and FBI top investigator Peter Strzok? Their reported 50,000-plus text messages (do the math per hour at work, and it is hard to believe that either had to time to do much of anything else) are providing a Procopian court history of the entire Fusion-Mueller investigation miasma.
So why did Strzok and Page believe that they could conduct without disclosure a romantic affair on FBI-government-owned cellphones? Why would they have been emboldened enough to cite a meeting with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, in which they apparently discussed the dire consequences of an improbable Trump victory?
I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s [probably Andrew McCabe, then deputy director of the FBI] office that there’s no way Trump gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.
Once more, those are the wrong interrogatories. If we consider the mentality of government elite careerists, we see that the election-cycle machinations and later indiscretions of Strzok and Page were not liabilities at all. They were good investments. They signaled their loyalty to the incoming administration and that they were worthy of commendation and reward.
Hillary Clinton’s sure victory certainly also explains the likely warping of the FISA courts by FBI careerists seeking to use a suspect dossier to surveille Trump associates — and the apparent requests by Samantha Power, Susan Rice, and others to read surveilled transcripts of Trump associates, unmask names, and leak them to pet reporters. Again, all these insiders were playing the careerist odds. What we view as reprehensible behavior, they at the time considered wise investments that would earn rewards with an ascendant President Hillary Clinton.
Did Cheryl Mills, Huma Abedin, or Debbie Wasserman Shultz worry about their fabrications, unethical behavior, and various conspiratorial efforts to ensure that Hillary Clinton would be exempt from criminal liability in her email shenanigans and that she would win the Democratic nomination and general election? Not when their equally unethical and conspiratorial boss would appreciate her subordinate soul mates. For a deep-state careerist without ethical bearings, one of the advantages of a Clinton sure-thing presidency would be that the Clintons are known to reward loyalty more highly than morality.
Then we arrive at the tragic farce of former FBI director James Comey. It is now easy to deplore Comey’s unethical and unprofessional behavior: In all likelihood, he wrote an exoneration of Hillary Clinton before he even interviewed her and her top aides; then he lied about just that sequence while he was under oath and virtue-signaling before Congress; he feigned concern about Clinton’s felonious behavior but used linguistic gymnastics in his report to ensure his condemnation would be merely rhetorical and without legal consequences.
Had Hillary won, as she was supposed to, Comey would probably have been mildly chastised for his herky-jerky press conferences, but ultimately praised for making sure the email scandal didn’t derail her. Comey’s later implosion, recall, occurred only after the improbable election of Donald Trump, as he desperately reversed course a fourth time and tried to ingratiate himself with Trump while hedging his bets by winking and nodding at the ongoing, unraveling fantasy of the Steele dossier.
And Barack Obama? We now know that he himself used an alias to communicate at least 20 times with Hillary on her private, non-secure gmail account. But Obama lied on national TV, saying he learned of Hillary’s illegal server only when the rest of the nation did, by reading the news. Would he have dared to lie so publicly if he’d assumed that Trump’s presidency was imminent? Would he ever have allowed his subordinates to use the dossier to obtain FISA warrants and pass around and unmask the resulting surveillance transcripts if he’d seen Trump as the likely winner and a potentially angered president with powers to reinvestigate all these illegal acts?
We sometimes forget that Barack Obama, not candidate Hillary Clinton, was president when the FBI conducted the lax investigation of the email scandal, when Loretta Lynch outsourced her prosecutorial prerogatives to James Comey, when the FBI trafficked with the Clinton-funded Fusion GPS dossier, when various DOJ and FBI lawyers requested FISA-approved surveillance largely on the basis of a fraudulent document, and when administration officials unmasked and leaked the names of American citizens.
Had Hillary Clinton polled ten points behind Donald Trump in early 2016, we’d have none of these scandals — not because those involved were moral actors (none were), but because Hillary would have been considered yesterday’s damaged goods and not worth any extra-legal exposure taken on her behalf.
Similarly, if the clear front-runner Hillary Clinton had won the election, we’d now have no scandals. Again, the reason is not that she and her careerist enablers did not engage in scandalous behavior, but that such foul play would have been recalibrated as rewardable fealty and absorbed into the folds of the progressive deep state.
The only mystery in these sordid scandals is how a president Hillary Clinton would have rewarded her various appendages. In short, how would a President Clinton have calibrated the many rewards for any-means-necessary help? Would Lynch’s tarmac idea have trumped Comey’s phony investigation? Would Glen Simpson now be White House press secretary, James Comey Clinton’s CIA director; would Andrew McCabe be Comey’s replacement at the FBI?
In reductionist terms, every single scandal that has so far surfaced at the FBI and DOJ share a common catalyst. What now appears clearly unethical and probably illegal would have passed as normal in a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton progressive continuum.
A final paradox: Why did so many federal officials and officeholders act so unethically and likely illegally when they were convinced of a Clinton landslide? Why the overkill?
The answer to that paradox lies in human nature and can be explored through the hubris and nemesis of Greek tragedy — or the 1972 petty burgling of a Watergate complex apartment when Richard Nixon really was on his way to a landslide victory.
Needlessly weaponizing the Obama FBI and the DOJ was akin to Hillary Clinton’s insanely campaigning in the last days of the 2016 campaign in red-state Arizona, the supposed “cherry atop a pleasing electoral map.”
In short, such hubris was not just what Peter Strzok in August 2016 termed an “insurance policy” against an unlikely Trump victory. Instead, the Clinton and Obama officials believed that it was within the administrative state’s grasp and their perceived political interest not just to beat but to destroy and humiliate Donald Trump — and by extension all the distasteful deplorables and irredeemables he supposedly had galvanized.