The Comey firing

James Comey. Photo (cc) 2016 by tua ulamac.

President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey appears to be highly suspicious for all the reasons others have already stated. In a democracy, you just can’t get rid of the person who is investigating your administration for possible wrongdoing.

Yet I have to point out that there is nothing in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s report that is wrong. Comey was a terrible FBI director in many respects, and he mishandled the public aspects of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in every way imaginable.

As late as Tuesday, several hours before the firing, we learned that he had grossly overstated (under oath) the extent to which former Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded emails to her estranged husband, former congressman Anthony Weiner. It was the Abedin-Weiner connection that formed the pretext for Comey’s announcement just before Election Day that he had reopened his investigation, a move that likely cost Clinton the presidency.

Of course, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had no problem with Comey’s sabotage of Clinton’s campaign at the time, and their claims that they are deeply, deeply troubled by it now are absurd. The outrage with which the Comey firing has been greeted is entirely justified.

But if President Obama had fired Comey the day after the election, or Trump shortly after his inauguration, it’s not likely that many people would have objected.

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Bad news for Hillary Clinton: ‘Carlos Danger’ is back

Anthony Weiner during his New York mayoral campaign. Photo (cc) by Azi Paybarah.
Anthony Weiner during his New York mayoral campaign. Photo (cc) by Azi Paybarah.

At a time when no one knows anything about the latest Hillary Clinton email story beyond the cryptic letter that FBI Director James Comey sent to Congress last week, I decided that the best way to research this piece was to pour a glass of wine, grab some Halloween candy, and watch Weiner, a documentary released a few months ago.

I didn’t learn anything about the emails. But I did gain some insight, at least superficially, into the marriage between disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin, the top Clinton aide whose emails were reportedly found on her estranged husband’s computer.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org.

The state of the Clinton email investigation

Based on what we know so far, FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell letter is likely to lead to very little. Having upended the election campaign with just days to go, Comey owes it to the public to tell us exactly what the FBI knows as soon as possible.

Here’s what we seem to know: Clinton and her top aide, Huma Abedin, exchanged emails (now, there’s a big surprise, eh?). Some of those ended up on devices used by Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner, because they shared a computer.

It is already well established that Clinton used a private email account for her official business, that she showed bad judgment in doing so, but that she did not commit a crime. Somewhere between many and all of the newly discovered emails may be duplicates that the FBI has already looked at.

There is nothing new here—just more evidence of what a mistake Clinton made in not using her State Department email account. For one thing, sensitive emails can end up in the hands of someone like Weiner.

Update: Jane Mayer of the New Yorker weighs in with essential reading on Comey’s decision to go public.

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Andrew Breitbart’s mixed legacy

Andrew Breitbart at the CPAC conference in Washington last month.

It’s a tribute to Andrew Breitbart’s skill at media manipulation that when word of his death started spreading around Twitter this morning, the first reaction many people had was that it was a hoax. Only after confirmation from the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations did people believe it was really true.

Breitbart was someone I kept maybe half an eye on, at best, so I don’t have a fully developed take on his career as a media provocateur and what it meant. He seemed to be someone of endless energy and pugnacity, which served him well in bringing down Anthony Weiner, but which proved an embarrassment with the deceptively edited ACORN and Shirley Sherrod videos.

Two people asked me today if Breitbart was “a journalist.” I think it shows how much the media environment has changed over the past decade that the question didn’t strike me as making much sense. He was a conservative activist and a showman, and one of the things he did was journalism, both good and bad. If you do journalism, are you a journalist? Does it matter?

I ran across three pieces today that I think are worth sharing.

The first is a remembrance by Josh Marshall, editor of the liberal website Talking Points Memo, who gets at Breitbart’s dual nature. Despite being well to the right of someone like Marshall, and exceedingly unpleasant on occasion, Breitbart had a certain way about him that people found compelling. Marshall writes:

There are some people who live for the fight. It’s something I try not to be part of. Yet it’s a big, punchy, vivid and outrageously honorable tradition in the American public square. I cannot think of many people who lived more out loud than he did, more in primary colors.

The second, a 2010 profile by Rebecca Mead of the New Yorker, was pretty much definitive at the time and holds up well. Despite its warts-and-all depiction of Breitbart, it comes across as fair, and Breitbart emerges as a not-entirely-unsympathetic character driven mainly by resentment and disdain for those he considers to be liberal elitists. And if that’s not a good description of what the modern conservative movement is all about, I don’t know what is.

Finally, apostate Republican David Frum has written a very tough assessment for the Daily Beast that acknowledges Breitbart “was by all accounts generous with time and advice, a loving husband and father, and a loyal friend,” but that is unstinting in its criticism of Breitbart’s brand of media activism. Frum writes:

Breitbart sometimes got stories right (Anthony Weiner). More often he got them wrong (Sherrod). He did not much care either way. Just as all is fair in a shooting war, so manipulation and deception are legitimate tools in a culture war. Breitbart used those tools without qualm or regret, and he inspired a cohort of young conservative journalists to do likewise.

Like Frum, I wonder if Breitbart might have grown if given the chance. His Weiner takedown surely must have showed him that getting it right brings a completely different level of respect and influence than does faking a video and getting caught.

Breitbart was only 43 years old and leaves behind four young children. Was he on his way to media respectability, or is that just wishful thinking? We’ll never know.

Photo (cc) by Gage Skidmore and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Why Anthony Weiner shouldn’t resign

Anthony Weiner

At this moment I think there’s at least an even chance that Anthony Weiner will resign from Congress. The supposed posting of an “X-rated” photo (I haven’t seen it, but Andrew Breitbart, who had said he wouldn’t release it, claims he was set up or something), coupled with the news that Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is pregnant, raise the possibility that we are going to be treated to revelation after revelation. Certainly many of Weiner’s Democratic colleagues want him to resign, if only to change the subject.

But should he? Weiner stands exposed as a pathetic creep, but he’s been accused of no crime. I guess we can call this a sex scandal, although it doesn’t seem that anyone actually had sex. I’ve heard it said that Republicans at least have the decency to resign, but that’s ridiculous. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford stayed in office after he was caught hiking on the Appalachian Trail, and U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has stuck around despite the revelation that he likes to visit hookers (a crime, by the way, even if you think it shouldn’t be one). On the other hand, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, couldn’t resign quickly enough after his sleazy behavior was exposed. You could spend hours compiling a list of Democrats and Republicans who did or didn’t resign after getting caught up in sex scandals.

The New York Times’ anonymously sourced tidbit that the Clintons, of all people, are unhappy with Weiner shows how ridiculous this has all become.

Unless Weiner is credibly accused of breaking the law, I say he should tough it out. And if party leaders want him gone, then they should recruit a good candidate to run against him in 2012.

From the Dept. of You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

“The Clintons are deeply unhappy about the situation and with Mr. Weiner, people who had been told of their thinking said.” (From today’s New York Times)

Anthony Weiner walks out of our lives

Click on image to view story at Beatthepress.org

Well, that was one of the stranger political spectacles you’ll ever see. U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., was late to his own news conference, thus giving right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart a chance to jump up to the podium and beat his chest for a few minutes. Unlike Weiner’s chest (allegedly, I must say, since Weiner later told the media he hasn’t seen the new pictures), Breitbart’s was covered by a shirt.

Among other things, Breitbart claimed to have an “X-rated” Weiner photo that he would not post. Still, you have to wonder if that might change given Weiner’s refusal to resign. God help me, I can’t believe I’m taking Breitbart seriously given his past transgressions. So that’s another gift Weiner has bestowed upon us.

Rather than keep babbling, let me direct you to our discussion of Weinergate on “Beat the Press” last Friday. The host, Emily Rooney, has some special insight into Weiner, and it’s worth hearing again following today’s confirmation that yes, that really was his wiener.