How many times in this strangest of political years have you said: It can’t get any stranger? And then, of course, something even more unimaginable happens.
The latest. but unlikely the last, development was FBI Director James Comey’s unprecedented intrusion into the presidential election. Last week, he announced that his agency would be looking into the possibility, without having seen any of the materials, that there might be evidence related to the previously closed investigation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails on a computer owned by disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner. His decision was made in the face of contrary advise by the Department of Justice, longstanding procedures in the department and all common sense.
While there is lots of speculation about Comey’s motives, the only thing we know for certain is that he has involved himself in the closing stages of an election in a way that no senior governmental official should ever do.
Partisan politics? Comey is a Republican. Caving to pressure from Republican members of Congress? There’s certainly been a constant drumbeat. Remarkably bad judgment? He already demonstrated that in his earlier comments on the investigation, so this latest episode is totally in character. Whatever the reason, history will certainly remember his name . Discussions about presidential campaigns in the future will all include this act of reckless irresponsibility.
Given the highly polarized electorate, few votes will be changed by Comey’s action. Trump supporters will see it as further confirmation of Clinton’s dishonesty even though we know nothing at this point that we didn’t know before last week. Clinton voters may well be motivated to work even harder between now and election day in response to this thumb on the election scale. Whether it impacts down ballot races may be the even more significant question.
However, as we enter the last week of the campaign, it’s hard to imagine that there are no more revelations or surprises to come, even ones that are totally fictitious.
Will there be more disclosures from Russian hackers and from Wikileaks? Almost certainly.
Will there be more women who come forward to describe being groped by Donald Trump? Seems likely.
What won’t happen, unless the Russian hackers change sides, is that we will learn anything about Donald Trump’s taxes. And that’s actually quite amazing given the potential conflict of interest issues, the questions about his business dealings in Russian and the doubts about how much in taxes he has paid.
The other question, of whether he has given anything near the amounts to charity that he has publicly claimed, has already been answered with a resounding “no” as the result of outstanding reporting by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
If the Clinton campaign has been saving any particularly damaging information about Trump, this will be the week in which it gets revealed. And, as has been the modus operandi of his entire campaign, Trump is likely to make some assertions about Clinton for which he supplies no supporting evidence at all.
And if all of these prospects weren’t bad enough, the ugly contentious mood is certain to extend well past Election Day. Republicans are already talking about not confirming any Supreme Court nominee proposed by Clinton as well as planning a torrent of investigations. Trump has encouraged his followers to question the legitimacy of the election. What actions that might provoke is anyone’s guess, but most of the scenarios are not good.
I’ve been taking a course on Latin American politics and am dismayed by the examples of military coups, impeachment of public officials on highly partisan grounds and the general instability of many of those political systems. We have always held ourselves out as a model for the rest of the world, the longest functioning democracy. Right now, our politics seems to be fraying at the edges and it’s not at all clear that there is a center any longer. As difficult and trying as the next week is likely to be, what follows may be even worse.