Columns » Gene Lyons

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Sorry, but I've seen this movie before and I know how it ends. There will never be a criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton for two basic reasons: First, she's a cautious, intelligent politician who doesn't take reckless chances. How many failed "investigations" before Republicans get that?

Second, bogus charges against prominent individuals with first-rate attorneys endanger the prosecution more than the defense. You think the formerly eminent Kenneth Starr fled to Waco, Texas, because he was insufficiently partisan? His ace prosecutors lost every Whitewater trial except the one where they convicted his own star witness, poor, sick Jim McDougal.

But let's go back to the starting place, October 1992, because what happened then has a direct bearing on today's headlines.

Based upon some inept, not particularly honest articles in the New York Times, an unqualified partisan in the Treasury Department — she later admitted selling "Presidential Bitch" coffee mugs from her government office — cobbled together criminal referrals naming just about every prominent Democrat in Arkansas as a suspect in Jim McDougal's financial shenanigans.

They included Bill and Hillary Clinton, who the evidence would show — and Kenneth Starr's prosecutors eventually argued in open court — had been swindled and lied to in McDougal's vain attempt to keep his foundering savings and loan, Madison Guaranty, from going under.

As the 1992 presidential election grew closer, the partisan L. Jean Lewis began to pressure the Little Rock FBI office and U.S. Attorney Charles "Chuck" Banks to investigate the Clintons. Banks was a lifelong Republican who'd been nominated to a federal judgeship by President George H.W. Bush. Unless the president was re-elected, Banks would lose two good jobs.

Having previously prosecuted McDougal, Banks and his staff found Lewis' work both factually deficient and politically motivated. Soon, pressure began to come from FBI headquarters in Washington. Bush administration Attorney General William Barr demanded action.

So the Republican prosecutor wrote a letter to the Department of Justice dated October 16, 1992. Here is what it said:

"[T]he insistence of urgency in this case appears to suggest an intentional or unintentional attempt to intervene into the political process of the upcoming presidential election. You and I know in investigations of this type, the first steps such as issuance of grand jury subpoenas for records will lead to media and public inquiries about matters that are subject to absolute privacy. Even media questions ... all too often publicly purport to 'legitimize' what can't be proven.''

For me personally to participate in [such an] investigation ... amounts to prosecutorial misconduct and violates the most basic fundamental rule of Department of Justice policy. I cannot be a party to such actions."

He promised to direct any press inquiries to the attorney general, which would have been politically devastating in that innocent era before the United States' current flirtation with fascism.

Banks understood that whoever won the 1992 election, his political career was over. He preferred to keep his honor.

History records that he was also right on the merits.

"Legitimize what can't be proven." Remember that phrase as you watch cable TV hucksters hyperventilate about FBI Director James Comey's ill-advised and arguably illegal "October surprise."

Meanwhile, don't tell me what a terrific lawyer and standup guy Comey used to be. That guy no longer exists. What we have instead is a spineless partisan who planted an IED in the middle of the 2016 presidential election — apparently because he feared criticism from GOP congressmen who drink from "Presidential Bitch" coffee mugs. And who tried to explain away his original weasel-worded letter to Congress with an even more craven apology to his FBI colleagues.

"Given that we don't know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails," Comey whined, "I don't want to create a misleading impression."

Oh no, anything but that!

He also admitted "There is significant risk of being misunderstood."

Well I'm sorry, but there's just no chance that a Washington insider as experienced and ambitious as Comey could possibly not anticipate the feverish speculation his letter was certain to set off.

My goodness, does the man not own a TV set? Has he never seen Wolf Blitzer in action? Breaking news! Bombshell!!

Was Comey unaware of Donald J. Trump barnstorming around the country promising to put "Crooked Hillary" in prison while his supporters chant "Lock her up?"

Psychologists call it projection: The only way to rationalize supporting a moral cripple like Trump is to convince yourself his opponent's worse.

Such antics risk a descent into the kind of society where the only real police are the Secret Police, and the judiciary exists to rationalize brutality. A society like Vladimir Putin's Russia, for example, where the bureaucracy is filled with useful drones who have bartered their honor for comfortable positions.

Comey could undo some of the terrible harm he's done to American democracy if he'd simply admit error and resign.

Alas, I just don't think it's in him.

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