WaPo | This morning Sari Horwitz has what may be the most comprehensive account yet of what happened behind the scenes as FBI Director James Comey decided to essentially hand the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. It’s an extraordinary story, one that provides an important lesson that goes beyond this one election: Political events with sweeping consequences are determined by individual human beings and the decisions they make. That may not sound surprising, but it’s a profound truth that we often forget when we look for explanations in broad conditions and trends (which are still important) or theories about dark and complicated conspiracies that don’t exist.
Let’s start with this summary of what happened when the FBI informed the Justice Department that Comey wanted to go public with the news that the bureau was looking into some emails found on a laptop belonging to Huma Abedin, Clinton’s close aide, which would end up happening nine days before Election Day:
One of the points that comes through in Horwitz’s account is that both Comey and Lynch were consumed with fear that they’d be criticized by the Republican outrage machine. Comey worried that if he didn’t immediately go public with the fact that the FBI was looking at these emails, then Republicans would say he was covering up an investigation in order to help Clinton. And Lynch worried that if she ordered Comey to adhere to department policy and not go public, then Republicans would say she was covering up an investigation in order to help Clinton.
So both of them failed to do their jobs, Comey with an act of commission and Lynch with an act of omission. You can sympathize with the pressure they were under and say that hindsight is always 20/20, but the fact is that they failed, and it was because they didn’t have the courage to do the right thing. The next time you shake your head at the sight of Republicans yelling into cameras or talk radio microphones about how terribly angry they are at whatever they’re supposed to be angry at today, remember how politically useful all that noise can be.