“Huma Abedin and Hillary Clinton must have lit so many Anthony Weiner effigies on fire today,” my friend Spencer said last week, after James Comey’s fateful announcement.
It’s ironic the end of the 2016 presidential campaign will be consumed by the revival of an email scandal that was revived because the FBI was looking into the sexting habits of Anthony Weiner.
Ironic—but not surprising.
The Obama elections were all about race. Bush 43’s elections were all about his father.
So of course the first presidential election in US history with a female candidate for the office would be all about sexual misconduct by powerful men.
How did we get here?
On October 28, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to members of Congress informing them that the Weiner investigation had turned up emails that might have something to do with the Clinton private server scandal.
The disgraced former New York Congressman, husband to longtime Clinton aide Abedin, allegedly shared lewd messages with a 15-year-old girl from North Carolina. That allegation sparked an investigation. That investigation turned up emails related to Clinton’s email server from a device believed to be Abedin’s.
The former Secretary of State’s use of a private server during her time at the State Department has been the focus of multiple hearings and Congressional investigations, an FBI investigation, and has been a consistent issue on the campaign trail.
On July 5, Comey announced that the Bureau hadn’t found sufficient evidence to indict Clinton. His decision was met with predictable screams from the right and praise from the left.
Comey went before Congress two days later to explain his decision. The GOP wasn’t happy about it, but they had nowhere to go with the investigation, and a full-on inter-party civil war over their nominee to handle, so the controversy subsided—until Comey’s potentially election-shifting letter.
The Clinton campaign seems prepared to ignore the investigation—for the most part. Clinton came out on Oct. 30 and forcefully called for the matter to be cleared up before the election and President Obama—Clinton’s boss when she was the Secretary of State—also questioned Comey’s actions last week.
And on Sunday, Nov. 6, we found out from Comey that actually there just wasn’t anything there after all, that the new emails were either duplicates or personal, and that the Bureau wouldn’t be pursuing further charges.
The impropriety of the FBI Director making such an inflammatory statement less than two weeks before a hotly contested election has been acknowledged by politicians on both sides of the aisle. No less a frothing ideologue than Joe Walsh—who tweeted less than two weeks ago that he would respond to a Trump loss by grabbing a gun—said Comey’s letter was “unfair.”
And once Comey came back with the announcement that there was no “there” there, Democrats and Republicans again excoriated him. The FBI Director just can’t win.
One has to wonder if the source of the new revelations has played a part in how Comey’s letter is being received in Washington. Weiner was never the most popular Congressman in DC. A recent New York Times article acted as a venting space for Democrats about the former New York Representative:
Mr. Weiner has been a figure of consternation in Democratic politics for years, in New York and nationally, regarded simultaneously as a sharp political mind and a man of striking immaturity and all-consuming ambition. With a gift for combat on cable television, Mr. Weiner repeatedly forced himself to the fore of Democratic politics, despite being seen by many in the party as too clever by half, too boastful about his intelligence—and too hungry for attention from reporters and women.
Weiner is also loathed in Republican circles. His acerbic takedowns of the GOP during the health care debate were particularly popular for liberals (and infuriating for conservatives) in the early Obama years.
So his connection to the latest scandal may be why many in political life want nothing to do with it.
But the disassociation may have more to do with something other than Weiner’s personality—it may be the fact that the particular issue he’s being investigated over is an issue that crosses party lines at least as much as his personal unpopularity does: inappropriate sexual conduct by a man in power.
Because Weiner’s hardly the first popular, partisan Congressional Representative to find himself in trouble for this kind of misconduct. Dennis Hastert, the Speaker of the House and loyal soldier for the GOP during the Bush years, was convicted in May of multiple counts of abusing young boys during his time as a high school wrestling coach decades ago.
The past three months have been filled with information about the abusive, predatory behavior of Donald Trump and the similarly abusive, predatory behavior of Hillary Clinton’s husband. Trump’s comments on his abuse of women and the subsequent stories emerging from his victims have been countered with the re-dredging up of Bill Clinton’s own scandals and accusations from the 1990s.
The tentacles of sexual misconduct are spilling all over the 2016 campaign. Weiner’s behavior—unrelated to the race, threatening to rock its foundations—is another arm of the sexually abusive octopus.
So you’re right, Spencer. Clinton and Abedin probably did burn a few effigies of Wiener last week. And who can blame them?