The results are in, and people are outraged. And I’m not talking about Brexit. Across the pond, a far less transparent phenomenon has occurred.
After many months of anticipation, the FBI has finally recommended against charging Hillary Clinton for using a private server to host her correspondence while she was secretary of state.
In legal terms, this is excellent news for Clinton. The chances of her facing prosecution for the handling and deleting of her emails is now slim-to-nothing.
Clinton is certain to be made the official democratic nominee at the convention in two weeks’ time, with no legal challenge standing in her way.
But in political terms, things aren’t looking good. FBI director James Comey’s recommendation came as a big surprise at the end of what was otherwise a damning speech that heavily criticised the former secretary of state’s behaviour.
He put emphasis on her being “extremely careless” with classified information, and highlighted the many falsities promoted by the Clinton machine – including her claims that she only used one device, never deleted emails, and that her system was protected from hackers.
As if Clinton’s issues with honesty and trustworthiness weren’t bad enough, Comey’s speech called into question not just her integrity, but also her judgement, professionalism, and basic competency.
But there’s one crucial aspect of this ruling that may deliver the biggest blow to Clinton’s campaign: the overwhelming sense of favouritism – that she has been let off the hook because her political celebrity title puts her above the law.
Journalists leaning far-left and far-right of the centre ground have been quick to note the inconsistencies in the FBI’s standards for criminal activity in the case of Clinton compared to others charged with secrecy infringements.
Glenn Greenwald aptly noted for his outlet The Intercept that “people who leak to media outlets for the selfless purpose of informing the public – Daniel Ellsberg, Tom Drake, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden – face decades in prison”; even those who have accidentally committed minor infringements – like bringing a classified document home to review with no intention to distribute it – have faced criminal charges.
But the “extreme, unforgiving, unreasonable, excessive posture toward classified information came to an instant halt in Washington… just in time to save Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations.”
Donald Trump’s nicknames for his opponents (Crooked Hillary, Lyin’ Ted) resonate with people because they are outlandish and amusing, yes – but also because they feed into voter’s instincts that a corrupt political elite exists to protect only itself. It’s hard to argue with those instincts when Comey, live on television, announces both Clinton’s guilt and his leniency at the same time.
As someone who supports reforms to the US criminal justice system that would put fewer non-violent offenders in prison, I have never hoped the result of the Clinton email investigation would put her behind bars. I have, however, hoped that she would be subject to the same rules and due process as the rest of us, and discredited for abusing her position of power in an effort to cover her own tracks. This has not happened.
Over the past few years, Americans have been wising up to the ugly underside of the justice system, which is experienced almost solely by minorities and the vulnerable. The US is in great need of a leader who doesn’t just acknowledge the institutional unfairness, but acts to reform it.
It’s hard to fathom Clinton taking on that role in any genuine manner, when it has been made clear that she is not subject to the system or its rules. Whoever reforms our laws cannot be above them.