Shortly before Thursday's White House daily briefing, NBC News reported on the contents of potentially incriminating notes from the June 2016 Russian collusion meeting at Trump Tower. That news apparently broke too late for any reporters to ask about it, but White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had her own ideas about what reporters should be covering, and they are Hillary Clinton.
While much of the briefing consisted of Sanders ducking questions about DACA, one reporter asked about a Republican conspiracy theory, based on selectively edited transcripts, suggesting that then-FBI Director James Comey decided against recommending prosecution of Clinton long in advance of his interview with her.
Sanders suggested that “if it's accurate,” it would support Donald Trump's decision to fire Comey, and suggested that all the other reporters cover it, too:
“I am not sure if he is aware of that revelation. But if it is as accurate as they say it is, I think that would certainly give cause and reason that Jim Comey was not the right person to lead the FBI. Hopefully, all of your colleagues will follow suit in covering that story.”
The story, however, is self-evidently garbage. It's based on a letter from Sens. Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham alleging that Comey decided not to recommend charges against Clinton months before he interviewed her. But the evidence they present shows only that Comey wrote several drafts of the statement he wound up giving on July 5, after interviewing Clinton:
Q: So moving along to the first public statement on the case or Director Comey's first statement the July 5, 2016 statement. When did you first learn that Director Comey was planning to make
some kind of public statement about the outcome of the Clinton email investigation?
A: The idea, I'm not entirely sure exactly when the idea of the public statement um first emerged. Um it was, I just, I can't put a precise timeframe on it um but [redaction]. And then I believe it was in early May of 2016 that the Director himself wrote a draft of that statement [...]
But as anyone who has followed this story even moderately closely knows, the statement Comey drafted was, in fact, a lengthy smear of Clinton that certainly would have taken some time to compile. Comey also testified he began to feel the necessity of such a statement as early as September 2015.
Regardless of how his interview with Clinton went, or what decision he ultimately made, he would have needed to have all of his anti-Hillary notes in order.
Had Comey's recommendation miraculously changed after interviewing Clinton, he scarcely would have had to change a paragraph or two in the screed he ultimately delivered.
Sanders's plea does, however, serve to illustrate the true purpose of Grassley and Graham's letter, which is to provide distraction and deflection from Trump's roiling Russia scandal.
Watch Comey's testimony below, via C-Span.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.