Did James Comey Violate the Hatch Act?

Clinton Email Probe: Did James Comey Just Violate the Hatch Act?

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In the wake of the “grope tape,” Donald Trump’s campaign appeared to be in free fall. After the Republican presidential nominee survived a number of controversies that would have spoiled the election hopes of any traditional presidential candidate, the real estate mogul’s chances of victory took a nose dive after video emerged in which he described sexually assaulting women with impunity.

Fast-forward to the past week, and one could be forgiven for thinking this revelation never occurred. On October 28, FBI Director James Comey sent a vaguely worded letter to congressional leaders implying that the agency may have uncovered emails relevant to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which originally concluded in July with no charges.

While the Clinton campaign has projected an air of confidence, asserting that the letter was deeply political and that it has not affected voter enthusiasm, Trump pounced, comparing Clinton’s undisclosed offenses to Nixon’s Watergate scandal. And, after weeks of playing defensive, all of a sudden Republicans struggling for their political careers had a rhetorical weapon to use against Clinton and fellow Democrats.

Liberal pollsters continued nonetheless to project the overwhelming likelihood of a Clinton win next week, even raising Clinton’s odds in some instances. But the stats guru Nate Silver posted some sobering news today, showing that Trump does in fact have a path to the White House.

In other words, Comey’s announcement did have an impact on the state of the presidential race.  Following the letter, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employs from electioneering.

While Comey may have been in the unenviable position of holding sensitive information that – at some juncture – would need to go public, there are a number of damning bits of information that could torpedo the FBI director’s political career. A number of former prosecutors have stepped forward decrying Comey’s bizarre timing for the disclosure. Considering the fact that there is no conclusive evidence of Clinton’s wrongdoing in situation at hand, the sheer lack of details make Comey’s actions seem deeply political. As Peter Zeidenberg, a former federal prosecutor, discussed with Politico:

I got a lot of respect for Jim Comey, but I don’t understand this idea of dropping this bombshell which could be a big dud. Doing it in the last week or 10 days of a presidential election without more information, I don’t think that he should because how does it inform a voter? It just invites speculation … I would question the timing of it. It’s not going to get done in a week.

Furthermore, Comey disregarded the Department of Justice’s concerns over the disclosure, which included a reminder of department policy not to release potentially vote-influencing information in the weeks leading up to a federal election. There is also evidence that the FBI has been sitting on information pertaining to various allegations against Trump, including collusion with Russian authorities. If true, this constitutes a shocking double-standard, in which information damaging to one particular candidate was arbitrarily released while perhaps even more severely damaging information on her political rival was withheld.

Is this enough to substantiate a charge against Comey under the Hatch Act? Right now, the available information doesn’t allow such conclusions. But further revelations – about Trump, Clinton, and internal FBI operations – could really complicate the nation’s divisive political environment in the months following the election.

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