Trey Gowdy, chairman of the House Select Committee on Benghazi, is understandably upset with Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s comments implying that the main purpose of the committee was to hurt Hillary Clinton politically. The statement by McCarthy was both inappropriate and stupid; it read as if he was using talking points written by James Carville. The Clinton campaign immediately seized on what McCarthy said. Its first national ad stars not Clinton but McCarthy. As Chris Cillizza wrote, the McCarthy comment allows Clinton to do something “she’s been unable to do ever since the e-mail story broke in March: Play offense.”
But here’s my hunch: In the end, it won’t really matter. Because the threat to Mrs. Clinton isn’t from Republicans, it’s from the FBI, which is conducting an investigation into whether classified information was improperly stored and transmitted through her private server.
As the Washington Post reports, the FBI’s probe into the security of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail has expanded to include a second private technology company, Datto Inc., which provided the FBI with data it preserved from Clinton’s account. The additional data “could open a new avenue for investigators interested in recovering e-mails deleted by the former secretary of state.” (Datto was hired to provide backups for the Clinton e-mail accounts by Platte River Networks, the Colorado-based tech firm hired in 2013 by the Clinton family to manage the system after Hillary Clinton concluded her term as secretary.) This development “heightened the possibility that copies of Clinton’s messages — including roughly 30,000 ‘personal’ messages she said she deleted — exist somewhere and could be recovered by the FBI.”
Two things are virtually certain. One is that Mrs. Clinton’s server was compromised by foreign intelligence services; the other is that she mishandled classified materials, including ones deemed to be top secret. The question is whether the FBI can prove either or both things occurred. Based on the material the FBI has recovered, it appears it can – and if it can, it’s going to be difficult for Mrs. Clinton to survive politically. (Her husband conceivably could. After all, he withstood revelations of adultery, draft dodging and perjury. But Mrs. Clinton has a fraction of his political talent and skills.)
It must be ominous for Mrs. Clinton to know that, as this story points out, two veteran prosecutors in the Justice Department’s National Security Division are overseeing this investigation. One of them helped manage the prosecution of David Petraeus, the retired general and former CIA director who was fined $100,000 and sentenced to probation earlier this year after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials.
In addition, Fox New Channel’s Catherine Herridge reported late last month that FBI Director James Comey, who has a reputation for independence and integrity, has started briefing select lawmakers on the status of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server, and confirmed investigators are actively looking for evidence the server was compromised by a foreign entity or hacker. According to sources, Comey reassured lawmakers his “top people” are handling the investigation. Comey said no resource is being spared and his team is working “24/7” to determine whether classified information was compromised.
What this means is that the House investigation, including Mrs. Clinton’s appearance before the House Select Committee on Benghazi later this month, will prove to be a sideshow. The real story isn’t what’s happening on Capitol Hill; it’s what is happening at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Based on how the story is unfolding, on how the stars are aligning, this investigation could well prove to be a lethal one for the Clinton campaign.