The marked emails which weren't: On Tuesday morning, July 5, Comey the God strode before the nation's TV cameras.
He was about to depart from normal procedure by discussing the FBI's recommendation in a criminal case which wasn't. He knew this wasn't normal procedure. You knew that because he said this:
COMEY THE GOD (7/5/16): Good morning. I'm here to give you an update on the FBI's investigation of Secretary Clinton's use of a personal e-mail system during her time as secretary of state.The god was breaking with normal procedure in the ways he described. He was going to discuss the case more than a person in his position normally would. Beyond that, he hadn't discussed his decision to do so with his superior at the Justice Department.
After a tremendous amount of work over the last year, the FBI is completing its investigation and referring the matter to the Department of Justice for a prosecutive decision. What I want to do today is three things:
I want to tell you what we did, I want to tell you what we found, and I want to tell you what we're recommending to the Department of Justice.
This is going to be an unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I'm going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. And second, I have not coordinated this statement or reviewed it in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.
Bravely, boldly and forthrightly, he just went ahead and talked.
When the god discussed the case, he savaged Candidate Clinton. Here's what David Chalian said on CNN just as soon as Comey the God had finished his remarks:
CHALIAN (7/5/16): Jim Comey, in these comments, basically cut an ad for Hillary Clinton's opponent, if they want to use it, by talking about "extremely careless" in her handling of this.In Chalian's assessment, the god had just cut an ad for Trump! Chalian especially noted what the god had said about "some e-mails sent or received that contained markings of classification."
And by the way, the two things that Hillary Clinton has talked the most about throughout this entire process of the last year is that she never sent or received anything classified at the time. Jim Comey just said that there were some e-mails sent or received that contained markings of classification, then added the extra layer that, even if it didn't contain markings, that Hillary Clinton and others around her in the position of dealing with this information should have known it was classified. That is one comment Hillary Clinton has said again and again and again that Jim Comey, in his investigation, the FBI investigation, disagrees with.
All along, Clinton had said that she didn't send or receive any such emails. Comey the God had now destroyed that lie, as if in an ad for Trump!
A fellow like Chalian would never say so. Nor will you ever hear Rachel Maddow discuss what we're about to say. But Comey had been remarkably disingenuous in his remarks about those "marked emails."
According to immortal Homer, the gods have always toyed with the affairs of men. So did Comey the God seem to behave in his transplendent press conference.
What did Comey the God say about those marked emails? Below, you see his exact remarks on the subject that day.
Concerning this highly fraught topic, Comey's remarks were extremely short. They were also extremely slippery. A person of moderate rectitude might call these remarks dishonest:
COMEY THE GOD (7/5/16): I think it's also important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails here containing classified information bore markings that indicated the presence of classified information."Only a very small number of the e-mails bore markings that indicated the presence of classified information," the godlike figure said. Absent-mindedly, he forgot to say what that "very small number" was!
But even if information is not marked classified in an e-mail, participants who know, or should know, that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it. And while not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department, in general and with respect to the use of unclassified systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the U.S. government.
Comey's absent-minded remarks produced the expected reaction. Instantly, Chalian said the god had contradicted Clinton on the much-bruited point:
All along, she said no emails were marked—but Comey said "some emails" had been! It was like he had cut an ad for Trump! Comey the God had contradicted Clinton on one of the things "that Hillary Clinton has talked the most about throughout this entire process of the last year!"
The New York Times continues to present this topic just as Chalian did. But in fact, Comey was conning the public about those marked emails that day. By the end of the week, it became clear that he had been working a con.
For starters, can we talk? As it turned out, the "very small number" to which he referred was a very small number:
That's right. When he testified before the House, it turned out that Comey the God had been talking about just three emails—three! Three emails, out of more than 30,000 emails in all! When Comey the God said some emails were marked, he was talking about just three!
Three emails, out of 30,000? Even if Comey hadn't been withholding key information that day, it would have been astonishing to see him handle the matter that way.
Three emails out of 30,000 is a vanishingly small number. The god was breaking normal procedure by discussing this matter at all. You'd think he'd want to be extra careful to be fair to the person he was trashing in this irregular manner.
You'd think he'd want to stress the point that he was discussing just three emails. But Comey didn't stress that point, and Chalian swallowed the bait.
Two days later, Comey was questioned his godlike decrees by the House Oversight committee. Based on what he said that day, it's hard to avoid a simple conclusion:
The God had acted in bad faith when he made his initial remarks.
What did Comey the God acknowledge before the House committee? The (three) emails to which he referred had not been marked correctly!
They hadn't been marked in such a way that a person would know they had been marked! There's no reason to think that Hillary Clinton would ever have seen any markings.
It's hard to swallow what Comey had done. In this exchange with Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Comey the God's disingenuous conduct became abundantly clear:
CARTWRIGHT (7/7/16): All right. You were asked about markings on a few documents. I have the manual here on marking classified national security information. And I don't think you were given a full chance to talk about those three documents with the little "c"s on them.Uh-oh! As Comey the God had known all along, a classified email is supposed to be so "marked" in the header of the email.
Were they properly documented? Were they properly marked according to the manual?
CARTWRIGHT: According to the manual, and I ask unanimous consent to enter this into the record, Mr. Chairman.
CHAFFETZ: Without objection.
CARTWRIGHT: According to the manual, if you're going to classify something, there has to be a header on the document. Right?
CARTWRIGHT: Was there a header on the three documents that we've discussed today that had the little "c" in the text someplace?
COMEY: No. They were three e-mails. The "c" was in the body, in the text, but there was no header on the e-mail or in the text.
CARTWRIGHT: So if Secretary Clinton really were an expert at what's classified and what's not classified and were following the manual, the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified. Am I correct in that?
COMEY: That would be a reasonable inference.
CARTWRIGHT: All right. I thank you for your testimony, Director. I yield back.
These (three) emails hadn't been marked that way! In each case, there was a (C) marking before a certain paragraph down in the body of the email.
But there was no "marking" in the header, where the "marking" is supposed to be placed. For that reason, a person who received the email wouldn't see or know that it contained classified information unless she read all the way down to the place (which might be deep in an email chain) where the (C) would be found.
This is very unpleasant behavior. Note what Comey had done:
When he made his initial, dramatic statement, he knew he was working outside normal procedures. You'd think he'd want to go out of his way to be fair to the person he was trashing in this irregular way.
Instead, Comey worked a rather apparent con concerning those "marked emails:"
He was talking about only three such emails (3!) out of more than 30,000, but he never stated the actual number. As a result of this slippery behavior, Chalian quickly said the number was "some."
(Yesterday, in the Washington Post, a slippery fellow named Paul Ryan said the number was "multiple!" The editors let it go.)
Comey the God worked a bit of a con concerning that very small number. Even worse, and this was much worse, he knew the emails hadn't been marked in the appropriate way!
For all he could possibly know, Clinton never saw the "markings"—the misplaced markings on three emails. The God didn't mention this fact!
Comey kept quiet about some other things we won't discuss today. But on this one basic question, it's hard to believe that Comey the God had acted in good faith.
Despite this problem, all of Washington ran to proclaim the great god's giant integrity. Clinton was massacred in the polls. Maddow returned from vacation this week and has ignored this completely.
Darling Rachel was deeply involved in her usual time-wasting nonsense last night. Comey the God is far too mighty for a hustler like her to oppose.
Tomorrow: Back to the Fred Kaplan essay