Column: Email controversy is a lesson in transparency for Clinton
Scrutiny is not fun, but politicians invite suspicion when they try to elude it.
Nov. 03, 2016
The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.
Tess Vrbin is a sophomore journalism student at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about national politics for The Maneater.
With the presidential election just days away, three debates finished and Republican Party candidate Donald Trump behind in the polls, it looked for a while like Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would end her campaign on a high note — with a victory.
Then on Friday, just 11 days before Election Day, FBI Director James Comey wrote a letter to Congress saying the agency would reopen its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server to handle classified information when she was Secretary of State. When the investigation closed in July, Comey said Clinton’s behavior was “extremely careless” but not criminal. Recently, more emails from Clinton surfaced in a different FBI investigation. Comey said the emails might be significant, but he couldn’t say for sure because the FBI hadn’t examined them yet.
Comey drew immediate criticism from Clinton and other Democrats for bringing up the situation when nothing was confirmed. However, the director was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Being upfront about the reopening of the investigation made him look like he was trying to influence the election, especially since this can’t be resolved before Nov. 8. It’s against FBI protocol to comment on an ongoing investigation anyway, and the Department of Justice warned Comey against making the announcement.
But if Comey had waited to say something until the situation was resolved, he might have come under fire from the Trump camp and the adamantly anti-Clinton GOP for not telling anyone about the chance that these newly discovered emails were important, whether or not they actually are. This is particularly likely because most polls indicate that Trump will lose the election. Comey had a tough choice to make, and no matter what he chose, one side or the other was bound to believe he was politically motivated and negatively impacted the election.
The FBI director chose to be transparent, and that was the right call.
Let’s put politics aside for a second and be real: No one likes being kept in the dark. Whether it’s shading the truth, lying by omission or telling blatant falsehoods, any form of dishonesty typically doesn’t go over well.
Transparency has never been Clinton’s strong suit. Part of why she set up the private server in 2009 was to avoid scrutiny, a great deal of which she had already experienced during her long political career. Needless to say, this backfired. Scrutiny is not fun, but politicians invite suspicion when they try to elude it. Clinton wasn’t forthcoming with the truth about her use of the server, and even though she has since admitted that using it was a mistake, she has already developed a reputation for not being honest or trustworthy.
A Fox News poll from Oct. 26 indicates that 67 percent of likely voters still see Clinton that way, and a poll from ABC News and The Washington Post states that 34 percent of likely voters are less inclined to support her after Friday’s revelation. That same poll, though, says the new development didn’t affect the opinions of 63 percent of likely voters.
Even though Comey’s “October surprise” could hurt Clinton’s lead, it might not matter much because Election Day is so soon. Most voters have already made up their minds, and early and absentee voting has already begun. According to The New York Times, more than 22 million votes had been cast as of Monday, and the Times reported Sunday that early voting in some swing states favors Democrats.
Clinton will probably win, but she’s no longer able to coast through the last days of this election. She could use one more reminder about the dangers of not being transparent.
Comey, through his own decision not to hide the truth, unintentionally did Clinton a favor. This long, messy email controversy is a big opportunity for her to finally learn transparency. If she becomes our next president, it’s up to her to take that lesson with her into the Oval Office and spend at least four years proving she can be trusted.