But, Her Emails!

Pro-Trump Congressmen are calling for a special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Aside from the words “Special Counsel,” this lede could have easily been written a year and a half ago during the 2016 election.

In July, Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling for a Special Counsel to investigate alleged bias in the Russia investigation and a range of the Clinton-related matters, especially the handling of the FBI’s investigation into her emails. It’s a drumbeat they’ve kept up steadily, most recently in their grilling of FBI Director Christopher Wray in a hearing Thursday.

Never mind that the Department of Justice’s Inspector General already has an investigation into the FBI’s Clinton email investigation underway. It is unclear why an additional investigation would be necessary, and less clear still why pro-Trump Republicans feel that a special counsel is required to lead it. But, we might wonder whether it is because “inspector general” doesn’t quite have the resonance with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation they’d like.

There are certainly some marginally unsettling circumstances that merit additional inquiry. That meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and former President Bill Clinton looks suspicious. We don’t know what was said, but it’s not unreasonable to suppose the meeting could have been an attempt to persuade Lynch to take it easy on Hillary. Lynch’s suggestion that FBI Director James Comey refer to his agencies’ probe into Clinton’s home-brew email server as a “matter” rather than an “investigation” cannot be read any other way than an attempt to spin it in a positive light for Hillary. And, the FBI agent whom Mueller dismissed from his team after discovering anti-Trump tweets worked on the Clinton probe as well.

Democrats have also complained bitterly about Director Comey’s election-eve decision to reopen the e-mail probe, which Clinton points to as a significant contributing factor her loss. All this raises legitimate questions. Did Obama Administration higher-ups pressure the FBI to let Clinton off easy? Did Director Comey’s public comments breech Department protocols?

Both sides see political bias, which some might say is a sign the FBI plays it straight. But, an investigation to get to the bottom of it all seems warranted nevertheless. Helpfully, there’s one already well underway.

The Department of Justice’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, opened an investigation back in January. Horowitz told a House Oversight Committee  Wednesday that the probe has made significant progress.

“We have interviewed dozens of people. We are not at the 100 level yet, but we’re in the dozens range,” Horowitz said. “We’ve reviewed about 1.2 million records in the course of the investigation,” adding that he anticipated a final report by spring.

Yet, some pro-Trump House Republicans want to do it all over again. With apparently the only difference being that this time the investigation would be led by someone called a “Special Counsel.”

There are other issues they want to see investigated by a Special Counsel too: Donations to the Clinton Foundation, Uranium One and whether the  infamous dossier provided grounds for a FISA warrant, among others. Some of these may merit some sort of investigation, but in none of the cases are there grounds for naming a Special Counsel.

A Special Counsel is intended for situations in which there is an irreconcilable conflict of interest that would prevent a fair investigation. For example, a Special Counsel was required after President Trump fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation.

Hillary Clinton isn’t a currently serving government official. She is a private citizen. Investigating her raises no conflict of interest whatsoever. An independent investigation might have arguably been justified when Clinton’s allies in the Obama administration controlled the Department of Justice. But, it strains credulity that the House Republicans calling for a Special Counsel now are doing so because they are particularly concerned that the Trump Justice Department might be biased against her.

We might be suspicious that the real aim here isn’t to investigate anything, at least not in the traditional sense of getting to the facts. Rather, it seems intended to bolster what has always been Trump’s last and strongest line of defense — Hillary Clinton would have been worse, or at least just as bad. “See, Hillary is under a ‘Special Counsel’ investigation too,” they will say — another whattabout argument to throw cool water on the flames rising from Mueller’s investigation, which are increasingly lapping at the feet of the President and his team.

This is not to say these matters should not be investigated, just that political distractions are not the purpose of a Special Counsel investigation. The use of the Special Counsel statute to launch an investigation into a matter already being investigated, with no apparent purpose other than to provide political cover to partisan allies — and perhaps harass political enemies — would be a gross abuse of power. Credit to Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has thus far rebuffed these demands.

But, there’s a broader significance in all this. President Trump’s most ardent cheerleaders in Congress have long argued that the Russia investigation and intense media scrutiny that have dogged his Presidency are the reaction of a fearful establishment to an exceptional outsider who will drain their swamp and make America great again. Now, there appears to be a budding recognition that this defense is growing untenable. Instead, they’re settling for a different defense that tacitly implies: Trump might be corrupt, but he’s no more corrupt than the rest of them.

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