What really happened at Comey's press conference?
What really happened at FBI director James Comey's press conference this week? After giving a textbook case of why Hillary Clinton should be charged, he surprised everyone by saying she should not.
Did he simply blow it? Did he wimp out, knowing the wrath he would face? Unquestionably, Hillary committed offenses for which the average Joe would be arrested. Was he blackmailed or bought off? Was he politically motivated?
There's truth somewhere in or around those guesses. Hillary, as Comey's testimony of what she did exposed, certainly deserved to be prosecuted. Others have been put in jail for much less, including an innocent video maker she blamed for Benghazi. But with no answers from Comey as to why he did it, I'm reminded of the Vietnam War performance of Jeremiah Denton, a U.S. prisoner of war (POW) hauled in the war's early stages before cameras by North Vietnamese captors to attest to U.S. "war crimes."
Denton, who would become a U.S. senator from Alabama but at the time was a high-ranking naval aviator in the hands of his North Viet enemies, pulled a spectacular stunt on his captors. While mouthing the lies they made him say about U.S. bombings, he blinked his eyes in Morse code relating "torture" while feigning that the lights were too bright. It was the first credible confirmation that our POWs were being tortured, valuable information used from then on by U.S. war planners and negotiators.
Was Comey, in his own way, doing something similar? That's probably a stretch. But in view of the devastating case he presented before letting Hillary off the hook, his schizophrenic press conference seems to have done something similar to Denton's. As a result of the naval officer's dangerous ruse, Americans finally got the truth. In Hillary's case, Comey's reputation and position as the nation's top cop seem to have shown Americans truth about Hillary many had not believed prior – namely, that she lied about her emails and put U.S. security in jeopardy, something no presidential candidate should have done.
For most of his press conference, Comey gave a list of seemingly indictable offenses, including: she had an unauthorized server and exposed information to "hostile actors." She lied to the public and authorities. She was "extremely careless" with secret documents. She was so unofficially indicted that The Washington Post, usually favorable to her, wrote that Comey "systematically obliterated many of the key defenses Clinton ... offered to reassure the public" about her private email system. Similarly, The New York Times, usually in her corner, wrote that Clinton "has emerged from the F.B.I. investigation ... a wounded candidate with a large and growing majority of voters saying she cannot be trusted."
They based that on a Times/CBS poll following Comey's press conference saying, "67 percent of voters say [Hillary] is not honest and trustworthy." Overall, according to a poll from ABC News – again, a pro-Hillary entity – "57 percent disapprove of ... Comey's recommendation not to charge Clinton." And these are just the first polls following Comey's testimony. Will they continue in that vein? Presidential polls indicate yes. While Hillary led by substantial margins in most earlier polls, the latest Quinnipiac poll – a very respected one – shows her for the first time losing ground in key swing states. "With a drop in grades on honesty and moral standards [Clinton] loses an 8-point lead over [Trump] in Florida and finds herself in too-close-to-call races in ... Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania."
It's early. Is this change because Hillary is seen as a favored elitist who doesn't have to obey the laws that unfavored citizens must? Or is it that contrary to some opinions, America has not yet lost its moral compass and, when alerted, Americans disparage candidates shown to lie and cheat, even those of strong political beliefs? Probably some of both.
Intended or not, Comey appears to have pulled a "Jeremiah Denton." Only he knows. But the consequences are the same. Truth emerged that otherwise would have not had such impact. Hopefully his testimony continues to impress. That should benefit the nation on election day.
Robert K. Wilcox is the author of the upcoming Target JFK: The spy who killed Kennedy?