David Petraeus would be the most ironic appointment to Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

President-elect Donald Trump.

Throughout the Presidential Campaign much of Donald Trump’s pitch for the job rested on his promises to “drain the swamp” and clean Washington D.C. of corruption. By this he meant (and generally said) that he wanted to reduce the impact that special interests and Wall Street had on policy making. In addition, he repeatedly looked to whip up anger around Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, with chants of “lock her up” commonplace during his rallies, as well as at the Republican National Convention. Although Trump’s promises to clean up Washington undoubtedly gained him some of his support, those that he is now considering for appointment to his Cabinet have proved that it was simply empty rhetoric.

To start with, his transition team is a who’s who of K Street lobbyists. Given that many of these people undoubtedly know what it takes to create a government, then you could argue that it isn’t the worst thing in the world, however it flies directly in the face of what Trump campaigned on. In addition, just look at some of the names that Trump has suggested for Cabinet appointments. For Treasury Secretary, Trump is said to be considering ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, as well as investors Wilbur Ross, Carl Icahn, and Tom Barrack. There was even a suggestion that Trump had offered the role to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon (a high profile supporter of Clinton and the Democratic Party), only for him to turn the role down, probably in large part because of his opposition to Trump. Those being considered for many of the other Cabinet roles are much the same. Trump is said to be considering venture capitalist Robert Grady, as well as oilmen Harold Hamm and Forrest Lucas for Secretary of the Interior. He is said to be considering the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, as the Secretary of Commerce; and a variety of oil executives have been suggested as Secretary of Energy. Although many of these people directly supported Trump’s campaign, are they not the exact people Trump pledged that he was going to remove from Government?

The latest irony comes with the consideration of retired general David Petraeus for the role of Secretary of State. Now, experience wise, Petraeus would arguably be a pretty good pick for the role. Petraeus was key during the invasion of Iraq, he has led the US Central Command, he has served as the Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, and he has served as the Director of the CIA. In short, his experience is close to unrivalled. However, the scandal which led to his departure from the CIA in 2012 would surely make it difficult for him to be appointed. In 2012, Petraeus resigned from his position as Director of the CIA following the fallout from his affair with the author of his biography, Paula Broadwell. Later, in January 2015, Petraeus was charged with providing classified information to Broadwell. Ultimately, in March of the same year, Petraeus pled guilty in Federal Court to a charge of the unauthorised removal and retention of classified information, for which he was sentenced to two years probation and a fine of $100,000. Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticised Clinton for her handling of classified information, despite the fact that following an investigation by the FBI, James Comey chose to recommend that she not face any criminal charges, but describing her as careless. Whilst Clinton was careless yet not actually guilty of any criminality, Petraeus pleaded guilty to a charge of mishandling classified information, yet he is now being strongly considered for a place in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Retired general David Petraeus, under consideration for the role of Secretary of State in Donald Trump’s Cabinet

Republican Senator for Kentucky, Rand Paul, recognised the problem were Petraeus to be appointed when he said on Monday: “You know, I think the problem they’re going to have if they put him forward is there’s a lot of similarities to Hillary Clinton as far as revealing classified information.” And Paul is right, how can you spend an entire campaign criticising someone for their alleged mishandling of classified information, and then appoint someone who was actually guilty of mishandling classified information to your Cabinet? The same way that you can fill the rest of your Cabinet and your transition team with special interests only days after pledging to eliminate special interests from Washington, I suppose.

What this proves is that, as many suspected all along, Trump’s pronouncements over the course of the campaign were simply empty rhetoric designed to curry favour with a neglected part of the electorate and get him elected. I suppose that really it is no surprise that he is already going back on so many of the promises that he made during the campaign.

Take the polls with a pinch of salt.

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When writing the title to this piece, I got a sense of deja vu. I was pretty sure that I had written the piece that I am about to write before. On looking back through my archive I found that I had indeed written a similar piece on 11 September, but entitled ‘Why you shouldn’t read to much into polls which show Trump in the lead’. This is a similar article.

Earlier this week, polling released by ABC News and The Washington Post suggested that Trump had moved into a one point lead in national polls for the Presidency. Now it was expected that Trump would gain some support following James Comey’s disclosure that the FBI were re-opening their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State, however the result of this poll was particularly remarkable because just a couple of weeks earlier it had found a twelve point lead for Clinton. I would dispute both these findings. It is almost impossible for support for candidates, in what has generally been a pretty close election, to swing by thirteen points in the space of two weeks — it simply does not happen. It strikes me that for the poll to turn up such a swing, then there must be something seriously wrong in their methodology. Now before you say so, this isn’t simply me not wanting to accept that Trump may be in the lead. I expressed the same doubts when the same poll showed that Clinton led by twelve points. It was simply such an outlier from other polls and the polling average, then it surely can’t have been correct.

One of the reasons for this huge swing could be that supporters of candidates often stop responding the polls in quite the same number when their candidates are having a bad day. For Trump, this was following the release of the Access Hollywood tape and following a couple of relatively poor debate performances, when his campaign was arguably at its lowest ebb. For Clinton, this was when it was announced that the FBI was re-opening its investigation into her use of a private email server. This means that it is hard to build up a picture of what it actually going on by simply looking at a single poll in isolation.

In my opinion, it would be far more productive to look at the polling averages, which tend to be pretty accurate in terms of predicting the final result. Currently the RealClearPolitics polling average gives Clinton a 2.2 percent lead in a four way race, which seems to be a pretty plausible reflection of where the race currently stands.

In addition, it is worth comparing the polls in this election, with what the polls said at the same stage in previous elections.

In 2012, Mitt Romney led Barack Obama by one point (49–48) with one week to go in the campaign. In 2004, John Kerry led George W. Bush by one point (also 49–48) with one week to go until election day. Both Romney and Kerry lost. Even if Trump is one point ahead at this stage, it does not mean that he is going to win. If anything, what it might do is increase turnout on the Democratic side, with many other unenthusiastic voters coming out to vote in order to prevent a Trump Presidency.

Although this election clearly isn’t over yet, Clinton remains the likelier victor. Given past history, you should certainly be taking the polls with a pinch of salt at this stage.

James Comey’s letter to Congress was extremely careless.

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The Director of the FBI, James Comey. 

 

On 5 July, the Director of the FBI James Comey released his statement regarding the end of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State. Although Comey said that he was not recommending criminal charges, he did rebuke Clinton for being “extremely careless” in her handling of “very sensitive, classified information”.

Given the furore of Clinton’s use of a private email server, it’s hard to argue that her actions were quite careless. By this I mean that you would think that this scenario could have been easily avoided by Clinton and her team. However, given that no criminal charges were recommended by the FBI, then it seems fair to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt. Throughout this election, it has seemed that although the email controversy has harmed Clinton’s favourability somewhat, it hasn’t harmed it enough to stop her winning the election. For she has the divisiveness of Republican candidate Donald Trump to thank. Had the Republicans nominated a candidate which the whole party were united around, then it may have been harder for her to prosper under the shadow of the email controversy. However, up to now, she has managed to do just this.

However, on Friday, James Comey intimated in a letter to Congress that he would be re-opening the investigation into Clinton’s use of private email server, after emails deemed to be pertinent to the investigation were found during a separate investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner. I would argue that this letter from Comey was just as careless as Clinton using a private email server in the first place, but for rather different reasons.

The real problem with this letter to Congress was the opacity of the statement given by Comey. In his letter Comey wrote the following:

In connection with an unrelated case, the FBI has learned of the existence of emails that appear to be pertinent to the investigation. I am writing to inform you that the investigative team briefed me on this yesterday, and I agreed that the FBI should take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.

Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.

From this letter, it is clear that the FBI has little or no idea of the content of the emails found during the investigation into Anthony Weiner — the emails in question are believed to have been exchanged between Hillary Clinton and her closest confidant, Weiner’s estranged wife Huma Abedin.

Indeed, at the time of sending the letter the Justice Department had yet to obtain a warrant to even look at Abedin’s emails (a warrant was only granted yesterday). This means that the FBI hadn’t read the emails, and so had no idea at all of their content.

Given the already extensive investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, the chances are that the FBI will have already read the emails in question, which would mean that the FBI’s recommendation would once again be that Clinton and her aides face no charges.

The likelihood of this discovery simply comprising emails that the FBI have already seen, means that the public disclosure that the investigation was both unnecessary and careless, especially just eleven days before a Presidential Election. The FBI do not routinely inform Congress about the status of ongoing investigations and so it makes no sense that they should do so now, particularly when the stakes are so high.

It leaves Clinton in a position where she can’t really fight back, because she has no idea what the FBI have discovered. Donald Trump can attack her and claim the new discovery constitutes anything he chooses, and because no one has any idea what the emails contain, Trump can’t face any sort of scrutiny. As for the public, they also naturally have no idea what this new discovery contains. This means that they are extremely vulnerable to the cascade of leaks which have come from the FBI in recent days. When the re-opening of the investigation was announced, it seemed that every news organisation had a different idea of what the new findings comprised. This leaves the public in a very difficult situation, in the absence of any semblance of factual knowledge about the ongoing investigation, where do they go for information?

This shows just how dangerous Comey’s letter was. The sheer opacity of his statement causes real problems. This is because the re-opening the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton could well influence the result of the presidential election. It could then be revealed that the new findings were not at all significant. What it clear is the investigation will not be completed until well after the election is over. Therefore, why reveal now that the investigation has been re-opened?

There is good reason for the Justice Department having a formal policy of avoiding public law-enforcement activity on the eve of elections. In an article for The New Yorker, Jane Mayer states that a Justice Department official has stated that the reason for this is that, “it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.” This is clearly true, as we have seen with the ongoing Clinton emails controversy. It was announced back in July that Clinton hadn’t done anything illegal, and although she has clearly been less than transparent, the number of people who retain the view that she is corrupt is astonishing. It seems clear to be that the very public investigation into her affairs, tainted her reputation hugely, and the public re-opening of the investigation threatens to do the same at a time when the stakes are much higher — just a week and a half before election day.

For this reason Comey, to use his own words, was ‘extremely careless’ in writing to Congress in the way he did on Friday. He should have known the effect that this could have had, and should have refrained from doing so in order to avoid influencing the outcome of the election. He should make a public statement as soon as possible in order to clarify the situation, to ensure that the public know exactly what it going on. Failing to do this, could have disastrous effects.

Will the re-opening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server affect the outcome of the election?


Just a quick post on the relevance, or rather irrelevance, of the news that the FBI has re-opened their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as Secretary of State.

Reports have suggested that these new emails have come to light through a separate investigation into former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Wiener, the estranged husband of Clinton’s closest confidante Huma Abedin, is being investigated for allegedly sending illicit text messages to a fifteen year old girl in North Carolina. It has been said that the emails found by the FBI belonged to Huma Abedin, and were found backed up on Wiener’s computer. There have been conflicting reports over the quantity of emails found, but the FBI have made clear that they have yet to examine any of them, and it seems clear that any examination won’t be complete until after the conclusion of the presidential election.

The Director of the FBI, James Comey, said that the FBI was taking steps to “determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation.” For Clinton and her team, the timing of this finding (just eleven days before the election), as well as the lack of clarity in Comey’s statement must be extremely frustrating. As expected, Donald Trump seized upon the news, and at a rally in New Hampshire said, “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before. We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.” On the face of it, its hard to see how this news could be anything but bad for Clinton’s White House ambitions. Subsequent changes in the financial markets and betting markets, suggesting that Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency had been dented by this news.

However, I’m not so sure about this.

On 5 July, the results of the FBI investigation (which has now been reopened) were revealed. This found that Hillary Clinton had not broken the law by using a private email server, but that she had been ‘careless’. Given that the FBI were unable to find any evidence of illegal activity at this stage, it is hard to see how the result would be any different this time around. Indeed, given that the FBI clearly performed such a forensic investigation into Clinton’s emails, it seems unlikely that these ‘new’ emails will tell them anything that they do not already know.

As for harming her election chances, the timing is awkward. Just eleven days out from the election, Clinton and her campaign team are having to field questions on emails rather than doing any actual campaigning. This is obviously not ideal. However, whether this latest release will convince voters that Hillary Clinton is corrupt is another matter entirely.

Surely this is an issue which people have made their minds up about by now? They’d probably even made their minds up about it prior to 5 July. If you’re a Trump supporter (or a Republican) you tend to think Clinton is corrupt, if you’re a Democrat you think she’s not corrupt. As for undecided voters, they’re in all probability sick and tired of hearing about emails. Although this new batch of emails will solidify the views of those who already think Clinton is corrupt, I would be surprised if they persuade anyone who doesn’t already hold those views. In short, I don’t think they’ll have much of an impact on the election.

And yes, I think most people can agree that Clinton acted carelessly in her use of a private email server. But, she didn’t do anything illegal, so what’s the big deal? When it comes to Trump and US cyber security, this is someone who has encouraged the Russian hacking of the emails of US citizens. On this issue, Trump doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Coming back to the new emails, when it comes to Clinton’s emails, voters have already made up their minds. These new findings aren’t going to change that, and therefore they aren’t going to change the outcome of the election.