I’ve walked into conversations mid-way and missed an important bit that completely changed the meaning of what I overheard – context matters. ABC’s interview with James Comey provides context for the odd announcement of finding Clinton’s e-mails on Weiner’s laptop. As background, prosecutors decide if the particulars of an event warrant filing charges. An extreme example is a manslaughter case with a self-defense argument. In a clear-cut situation, the prosecutor might never charge the individual — why waste tax payer money and juror time adjudicating a situation where there are a dozen independent witnesses who saw an attack and lethal force used as defense? In a murkier situation, like Zimmerman killing Martin in Florida, the prosecutor will charge the individual; and a jury determines if the lethal force was used in legitimate self-defense. The question being investigated by the FBI wasn’t just if there were classified materials inappropriately handled – the deeper question was if there was criminal negligence in the handling of classified materials. Did someone say “now, you need to keep all classified electronic materials on a State Department server” but the messages were still moved to a private server? Were the classified documents sensitive enough that the need to secure the information would be self-evident? From the messages on the seized server, the classified material was not high value (the bar for being stamped ‘classified’ is not particularly high). While it would have been possible for someone to send an email saying “you shouldn’t be doing this”, the personal server was not apt to contain any conversation leading up to the installation of the server — it didn’t. The FBI deemed Clinton’s handling of classified material as careless but not criminal.

Finding a cache of e-mails from the period preceding the installation of her personal server — well, as Comey says:

‘She used a Blackberry for the first three months or so of her tenure as secretary of State before setting up the personal server in the basement. And the reason that matters so much is, if there was gonna be a smoking gun, where Hillary Clinton was told, “Don’t do this,” or, “This is improper,” it’s highly likely to be at the beginning.’

Did the FBI “sit” on the information for weeks? He claims that someone mentioned finding Clinton’s emails on Weiner’s computer and he thought it sounded wrong (even assuming he knew the relationship between Clinton, Abedin, and Weiner … do you expect to find my manager’s emails on my husband’s computer?) and pretty much didn’t think about it until called into a meeting a few weeks later.

Context. Even as a long-time IT person, I could see thinking someone mis-spoke if they just mentioned in passing that seemed illogical. If the illogical thing were true, I would expect more attention to be called to it (i.e. the “in passing” bit is a salient fact). And the messages coming from the period before the personal server was built, and thus possibly containing conversations regarding the propriety of doing so (or, as she claimed, the “Hi, I used to be Sec of State and here’s how we handled things … get a personal email server” could have been there too).

A fellow who feels he has a “duty to correct” … if he recently stated that nothing was found and the case was being shelved, then discovered new evidence? Seems pretty reasonable to mention “hey, you remember that case we were shelving? Turns out we have some new, unique, evidence that we want to look at”. Now why he failed to mention the federal investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible involvement of the Trump campaign, the October FISA warrant for Carter Page … haven’t heard any rational for that one yet beyond “it looks bad for the Democratic president to be investigating the Republican campaign during an election year”.

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