As a former prosecuting attorney, I offer the following insights regarding the apparent resolution of the Clinton email scandal.
In pursuing a criminal case, discretion is exercised at various stages, beginning with whether the policing agency doing the investigation decides to arrest the suspect or otherwise refer the case to the prosecuting attorney who has the final say in whether the criminal charge will be filed in the prosecutor’s discretion or whether it will proceed based on the findings of a grand jury.
In reviewing the statement made by FBI Director Comey as well as viewing his testimony before Congress, Comey decided, for reasons that will long be debated, to subsume the prosecutor’s discretion by deciding to reveal that in the FBI’s view, there was no basis to criminally charge Hillary Clinton with a crime.
In exercising a prosecutorial function, we may assume that Comey did as most prosecutors do: he reviewed the evidence and concluded that it was insufficient to sustain a conviction under the applicable statutes beyond a reasonable doubt.
In fact, he concluded that two primary aspects of the case militated against charging Clinton with a crime: the applicable statute that would arguably make her actions criminal had never been used to prosecute anyone before with the additional implication in his testimony that the statute itself may be unconstitutional and that her actions, however reprehensible, did not contain the requisite criminal intent to sustain prosecution.
Prosecutors do have the discretion to decide whether they will prosecute under a particular statute or another or none at all. It is not enough to simply conclude that on the face of it, someone appears to have violated the law. The prosecutor has to take into account a myriad number of factors, including how he or she thinks a jury will ultimately decide a case which often involves more than a mere reference to whether the elements of the crime have been satisfied at some minimal level under a particular statute.
In this case, although there is some evidence that such prosecutions have, in fact, been pursued in the past, Comey decided that it would be fundamentally unfair to single out Clinton for prosecution by treating her as a special case as opposed to how someone of lesser stature would be treated. It will be argued, of course, that his view is subject to criticism on many levels.
More troubling, however, is the issue of intent. Under the relevant statute, Clinton’s actions could be subject to prosecution if she acted with “gross negligence.” That seemingly, on its face, removes intent, whether specific or general, from the determination of whether she violated the law. Comey, himself, undermined his own conclusion, by detailing, in the interests of full disclosure, Clinton’s actions which by any objective standard he characterized as “sloppy,” “careless,” and worse. Since over fifty percent of the American people believe Clinton should have been prosecuted, it is hard to imagine that a jury could not find she committed gross negligence in her handling of her emails, particularly when Comey indicated that it was more than likely that she and her staffs’ emails were hacked by foreign powers and conceded this could have jeopardized national security.
Finally, there is the additional issue of Clinton lying to Congress. Apparently, being aware of the pit fall of lying to the FBI (Comey concluded she had not done so while not being able to recall what she had been asked by his investigators), the FBI investigation clearly concluded that in testimony before Congress, Clinton had lied on a multitude of issues regarding her server and other matters concerning her emails.
When asked why he had not pursued criminal charges for perjury, Comey correctly pointed out that was not the focus of the inquiry and that if the matter of Clinton’s possible perjury was to be pursued, it would have to come after a request from Congress (which has now apparently occurred).
I, for one, do not believe there was or is any conspiracy on the part of Comey or the FBI with the Obomba administration or anyone else to compromise the investigation. I do believe, as many do, that Clinton did, in fact, violate one or more statutes and that she should have been prosecuted.
Even for those who disagree that she should have been prosecuted, it should give one pause to realize that a candidate for President was incompetent to the point of arguably violating the law and compromising national security. We have elected Presidents in the past who turned out to be corrupt and incompetent to the point of criminality. We have never, to my knowledge, elected a President who we knew was already guilty of these failings.