Israelis are far-too-well acquainted with the kind of public indictment that FBI Director James Comey handed down against Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, which nonetheless ends with no action taken. They are also achingly familiar with the political clash that inevitably follows, with the politician’s side claiming complete victory and urging everyone to move on and their opponents claiming a “moral indictment” of their adversary while alluding to a sinister conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. In our experience, it’s the decision not to press charges that overwhelmingly wins the day.
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Comey was highly critical of Clinton’s "extremely careless" handling of her private email accounts, but these are mere words that will eventually be eroded in the upcoming partisan bickering. Criminal proceedings exponentially enhance the gravity of the case under discussion and also provide a continuous news story to feed the media’s frenzy. Mere condemnation, no matter how grave, has a short shelf life, at least in our part of the woods.
Not that he was even necessarily aware of it, but in his dramatic press conference in Washington, Comey was following in the footsteps of a precedent first set by current Supreme Court justice, and then Israeli attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein, in the so-called Baron-Hebron affair in 1997. In a scathing “public report” Rubinstein lambasted then and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as others for what amounted to a conspiracy to curry favor with Shas leader Arye Dery by appointing an attorney general who would allow him to escape a criminal conviction. It was subversion of the law on a grand scale, of the kind that Trump and many other Republicans can only fantasize about at night.
The contents of Rubinstein’s report were indeed grave, prompting the police to recommend prosecution of Netanyahu and others, but it was his bottom line that mattered: Netanyahu was not indicted, the details of the affair were ultimately forgotten, and soon he will break David Ben Gurion’s record as Israel’s longest serving prime minister. Since then it’s become a pattern in supposedly open-and-shut cases involving Ariel Sharon, Avigdor Lieberman and many others, who went on to bigger and greater things. If America is anything like Israel, Clinton should soon be out of the woods over the email affair as well.
Given Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s previous statement that she would follow the FBI’s lead, Comey’s report removes a clear and present danger to Clinton’s candidacy. The email affair hung over her head like a Damocles’ sword, threatening her candidacy at every turn. Its removal deprives Bernie Sanders of the last remaining excuse for not dismantling his presidential campaign: apparently the FBI is not going to hand him the prize that Democrats were unwilling to grant him in the first place.
The report also gives Donald Trump an opportunity to launch a grand assault against Clinton, unless he insists again on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, as he did once again this week. It was Trump, after all, who only a few short days ago extricated Clinton from the negative reverberations of her three-hour long questioning by the FBI on Saturday and the revelations of the truly questionable meeting between Bill Clinton and Attorney General Loretta Lynch last week. The Trump campaign’s anti-Semitic-looking tweet, the revelation that it was lifted from a neo-Nazi, white supremacist’s twitter feed and, most of all, the campaign’s insistence on deflecting protests and redirecting them towards its critics helped turn an incident that could have easily been contained into a wild brushfire that incinerated whatever advantage Trump might have gained from the email affair.
Trump’s had repeatedly shown inability to exercise restraint even when it is politically advantageous to him. He botched up the attack in Orlando by boasting of his foresight within hours of the tragedy, he soured his own Brexit after-party by touting how he’d gain from the British loss and he alienated Jews as well as many other Americans by disingenuously refusing to acknowledging how offensive his “Crooked Hillary” meme might seem and how ridiculous his insistence that the Star of David in it was actually a sheriff’s badge might sound. He also seems oblivious to the fact that in his handling of issues related to racism and hatred of Jews, he’s already run up a deficit from which it might be impossible to recover.
Comey's statement gives Trump a golden opportunity to challenge Clinton’s image as an experienced, tempered and judicious stateswoman, but he could easily wind up once again as his own worst enemy. Accusing the well-respected Comey, for example, of being a part of a criminal effort to obstruct justice and exempt Clinton from prosecution might play to the conspiracy theories already rampant among Trump’s supporters but would do very little to sway moderate Republicans to his side. Trump would be better off assuming a low profile and allowing Comey’s damning descriptions of Clinton’s behavior to speak for themselves, but then he wouldn’t be Trump, would he?