Wednesday

March 29th, 2017

Insight

Before Anyone Whines About Comey and Clinton, Try Revisiting Weinberger And Walsh

Bill Whalen

By Bill Whalen

Published Nov. 2, 2016


A day after the surprise decision to revisit Hillary Clinton's email trail and the reviews aren't exactly raves from the left side of the aisle.

Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic national chairman, put FBI Director James Comey in a Russian satellite orbit.

"Comey tried to do what he thought was right. He totally botched the presentation and may have destroyed the credibility of the FBI forever," Dean tweeted the morning after Friday's bombshell announcement.

He added: "Ironically Comey put himself on the same side as Putin."

Bill Maher, the outspoken HBO personality, wrote off the news as a nothing-burger. "I don't know what they're going to find, and I don't care," Maher told his national viewing audience.

"She's got a server in her basement? I don't care if she's got JonBenet Ramsey in her basement, I'm still not voting for Donald Trump."

Finally, there's California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who questioned the nobility of it all. "The FBI has a history of extreme caution near Election Day so as not to influence the results," Feinstein tut-tutted on Friday. "Today's break from that tradition is appalling."

About that grand, etched-in-granite tradition of federal law enforcement not wanting to influence election results . . .

Where were Feinstein and other voices of current outrage 24 years ago this weekend, when the bouncing ball of justice landed squarely atop George H.W. Bush's re-election hopes?

On Oct. 30, 1992, the Friday before that year's presidential vote, Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh announced a grand jury indictment of former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger on one count of false statement when he told Congress back in 1987 that he'd keep regular notes about his comings and going while running the Pentagon.

Actually, it was a re-indictment - in June, four-and-a-months earlier, Weinberger had been indicted on five felony charges related to the Iran-Contra affair, including accusations that he'd lied to Congress and obstructed Congress.

A month after the election, a federal district judge threw out the one-count indictment. Two weeks after that, on Christmas Eve, Bush issued presidential pardons for Weinberger and five others implicated in the arms-for-hostages affair.

The political fallout from Walsh's pre-Halloween trick?

Bush had been climbing in the polls, going into the final weekend and his campaign's last push. "Big Mo", as 41 liked to call it, may have at last been his side despite that year's uphill political terrain (bad economy, disgruntled conservatives).

But the bombshell changed the narrative from Bush on the rise to revisiting ghosts of his vice presidential past.



Moreover, the timing of Walsh's announcement looked just a little too cute by half.

A day before Walsh's announcement, Bill Clinton had adjusted his stump speech to take after Bush's character - referring indirectly to the Reagan Administration putting the nation through Iran-Contra.

As the news broke in Washington, the Clinton campaign promptly issued a four-page press release using Walsh's game-changer to keep up the character assault.

What still drives some Republicans crazy about that: the press release was dated a day before the independent counsel's announcement (George Stephanopoulos, at the time a top Clinton strategist, claimed it was an innocent typo).

Still, Republicans insisted a conspiracy was afoot. A week after the elder Bush's loss to Clinton, Bob Dole called the indictment "the straw that broke the camel's back" of Bush's re-elect hopes. And he trashed Walsh's operation as a "hotbed of Democratic activist lawyers".

Dole's evidence: James Brosnahan, a Walsh underling handling Weinberger's case, personally contributed $500 to the Clinton campaign while his law firm had contributed $20,000.

The point of this isn't so much to relive the past, as it is to put the present on a more accurate context.

For openers, to take exception with what Sen. Feinstein alleges, Comey's decision isn't that rare of an October surprise or a departure from Washington's norms. An independent counsel went nuclear in 1992 - a more damaging turns of events, one can argue, in that "indictment" looks worse than "investigation" in headlines.


Second, unlike Bush in 1992, Clinton has an entire week to regain her momentum before the final hours of the election. That's several extra days to assess the fallout - and, oh by the way, maybe dump another truckload of dirt on Trump.

Third, unlike 1992, more voters had cast their early ballots before the bombshell hit. Yes, there are still a large number of undecided voters still unsure of what to do. However, more voters already have cast their lot (a big help for Clinton in battleground states like Arizona and Ohio).

Finally, there's the question of collateral damage. Let's see how many newspapers choose not to side with Clinton or take back their endorsements, given this latest plot twist (according to Editor & Publisher, 1992 was the first presidential election in which the Democratic nominee received more newspapers than the GOP's choice).

Clinton supporters have a right to be angry, but not at Comey. They ought to look at a candidate and a team of enablers who created the server mess. Add to the mix: party leaders willing to roll the dice on a presidential nominee under FBI investigation.

Clinton may yet ride out the storm and win on Election Day. Until then, her friends and follows should stop hitting the whine bar.

Comment by clicking here.

Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he studies and writes on current events and political trends. In citing Whalen as one of its "top-ten" political reporters, The 1992 Media Guide said of his work: "The New York Times could trade six of its political writers for Whalen and still get a bargain." During those years, Whalen also appeared frequently on C-SPAN, National Public Radio, and CNBC.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles