Interpreting the latest clinton email scandal tea leaves

The most recent revelatory tea leaves available to interpret in the Clinton email scandal give us a bit more to go on.  Those recent events are the Cheryl Mills FBI interview and FBI director James Comey’s recent comments on Clinton’s characterization of the investigation as a “security inquiry.”  In order of probability, we can assume the following from these events:

Strong Probability: The Justice Department has no interest in prosecuting Hillary or her aides in this scandal.  This was already fairly evident in President Obama’s comments on it, and Justice’s acquiescence permitting Clinton’s top aides to be represented by the same well connected Washington attorney.  If there was any doubt about this, the circumstances of the Mills interview confirm Justice’s lack of interest.  Not only were Mills and her attorney consulted beforehand regarding questioning, but they were permitted to make certain categories of inquiry off limits.  When an FBI agent diverted from the script, Mills and her attorney stopped the interview and lodged a protest.  The interview then continued on their terms, with the pair taking further consultation breaks as needed.  The restricted category of questioning has been described as touching on attorney-client privileged communications.  This is clearly a broad interpretation of privileged communications among Mills, Clinton, and her aides, but evidently one the Justice Department will respect.  Since Mills is a lawyer, it will put off-limits most critical communications among her, Hillary, and other Hillary aides.        

Moderately Strong Probability: The FBI is unhappy with the Justice Department’s determination to let Hillary and her aides skate in the email scandal.  We know pretty much for sure that at least one FBI agent is frustrated by Justice’s stance – the agent who asked the prohibited question.  We can assume that the agent did not make a mistake, since these matters are meticulously prepped and rehearsed.  It is also unlikely that the agent acted on his own, since such a move might well be a career-killer.  Thus, it is also probable that the question was approved by at least the agent’s immediate supervisors, if not higher up, as a way of embarrassing Justice and Mills and making the FBI’s displeasure apparent.  Adding credence to this interpretation were Director Comey’s comments mocking Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the case as a “security inquiry.”  While Comey did not come out and say explicitly that the investigation is criminal, that was the clear implication of his comments, which also embarrassed Justice and the Clinton team. 

Lesser Probability: Comey is hedging his bets as Hillary Clinton’s political position weakens.  As long as she was both the presumptive Democrat nominee and the prohibitive favorite to beat the probable Republican nominee, Comey an experienced political hand himself was determined to be very careful, since Clinton would be his likely future boss.  As the inevitability of her ascension to the presidency weakens, Comey is becoming bolder, and also bolstering his supposed bona fides as an incorruptible lawman in the event that the blunt and mercurial Trump wins the election.  None of this will likely move Justice to prosecute Hillary, but it does increase the likelihood that the FBI will refer criminal charges to Justice, embarrass Clinton, and further erode her flagging political fortunes.

The most recent revelatory tea leaves available to interpret in the Clinton email scandal give us a bit more to go on.  Those recent events are the Cheryl Mills FBI interview and FBI director James Comey’s recent comments on Clinton’s characterization of the investigation as a “security inquiry.”  In order of probability, we can assume the following from these events:

Strong Probability: The Justice Department has no interest in prosecuting Hillary or her aides in this scandal.  This was already fairly evident in President Obama’s comments on it, and Justice’s acquiescence permitting Clinton’s top aides to be represented by the same well connected Washington attorney.  If there was any doubt about this, the circumstances of the Mills interview confirm Justice’s lack of interest.  Not only were Mills and her attorney consulted beforehand regarding questioning, but they were permitted to make certain categories of inquiry off limits.  When an FBI agent diverted from the script, Mills and her attorney stopped the interview and lodged a protest.  The interview then continued on their terms, with the pair taking further consultation breaks as needed.  The restricted category of questioning has been described as touching on attorney-client privileged communications.  This is clearly a broad interpretation of privileged communications among Mills, Clinton, and her aides, but evidently one the Justice Department will respect.  Since Mills is a lawyer, it will put off-limits most critical communications among her, Hillary, and other Hillary aides.        

Moderately Strong Probability: The FBI is unhappy with the Justice Department’s determination to let Hillary and her aides skate in the email scandal.  We know pretty much for sure that at least one FBI agent is frustrated by Justice’s stance – the agent who asked the prohibited question.  We can assume that the agent did not make a mistake, since these matters are meticulously prepped and rehearsed.  It is also unlikely that the agent acted on his own, since such a move might well be a career-killer.  Thus, it is also probable that the question was approved by at least the agent’s immediate supervisors, if not higher up, as a way of embarrassing Justice and Mills and making the FBI’s displeasure apparent.  Adding credence to this interpretation were Director Comey’s comments mocking Hillary Clinton’s characterization of the case as a “security inquiry.”  While Comey did not come out and say explicitly that the investigation is criminal, that was the clear implication of his comments, which also embarrassed Justice and the Clinton team. 

Lesser Probability: Comey is hedging his bets as Hillary Clinton’s political position weakens.  As long as she was both the presumptive Democrat nominee and the prohibitive favorite to beat the probable Republican nominee, Comey an experienced political hand himself was determined to be very careful, since Clinton would be his likely future boss.  As the inevitability of her ascension to the presidency weakens, Comey is becoming bolder, and also bolstering his supposed bona fides as an incorruptible lawman in the event that the blunt and mercurial Trump wins the election.  None of this will likely move Justice to prosecute Hillary, but it does increase the likelihood that the FBI will refer criminal charges to Justice, embarrass Clinton, and further erode her flagging political fortunes.