Gene Lyons

So here’s the good news: For all their assiduous efforts, President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr have failed to fully weaponize the U.S. criminal justice system. There’s never going to be a Russian-style show trial of Trump’s 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

According to The Washington Post, “A Justice Department inquiry launched more than two years ago to mollify conservatives clamoring for more investigations of Clinton has effectively ended with no tangible results.” Regarding the ballyhooed “Uranium One” and Clinton Foundation probes, “[c]urrent and former officials said that (prosecutor John) Huber has largely finished and found nothing worth pursuing.” Same as it ever was.

See, in a properly functioning legal system, an ambitious prosecutor has far more to lose than to gain by bringing, pardon me, trumped-up charges against a prominent figure with the wherewithal to defend herself. Even Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr understood that. Starr spent most of Bill Clinton’s presidency hinting at Hillary’s impending indictment before ultimately releasing a final report conceding he had nothing, either.

The headline to Washington Post MVP columnist Jennifer Rubin’s piece reads, “Hillary Clinton is the most exonerated politician ever.” And Rubin references only this latest collapsed conspiracy theory and the FBI’s fruitless probe of her email usage. Not Whitewater, her law firm billing records, Benghazi, etc.

“You would think legitimate media outlets at the very least,” Rubin writes, “would self-reflect on their coverage that often treated long-ago disproved accusations as still unsettled.”

That would be The New York Times, although Rubin’s too polite to say so. Also, never mind that Rubin herself spent much of 2016 railing against both Clintons’ propensity to play “fast and loose with rules and norms that inhibit others, always winding up just a smidgen short of illegality.”

That is to say, they wind up falsely accused, with each successive bogus accusation somehow enabling the next. I’m reminded of the time Pulitzer Prize-winning financial journalist James B. Stewart, flogging his error-filled book on the Clintons’ Arkansas real estate dealings on “Nightline,” accused Hillary of submitting a fraudulent loan application. All because he, Stewart, had failed to examine Page 2 of a two-page document.

Also of this immortal 1996 paragraph by Time magazine’s Michael Kramer summarizing the Washington press corps’ Whitewater suspicions with a string of “maybes,” here highlighted for your reading convenience.

Whitewater, Kramer wrote, “is different — OR COULD BE — because the wrongdoing (IF THERE WAS ANY) MAY HAVE INVOLVED abuses of power while Clinton was serving as governor of Arkansas … SO EVEN IF the worst WERE PROVED — and NO ONE YET KNOWS what that is — the offense MIGHT NOT WARRANT impeachment.” He concluded by asking why two lawyers like the Clintons possessed no paper trail “proving their innocence.” Their innocence, that is, of charges Kramer himself couldn’t define.

Pretty much the same standards applied to the whole “Uranium One” fixation. Like Whitewater, it also originated in a piece of absurdist journalism published by the mighty New York Times back on April 24, 2016. Read today … Well, the thing is almost impossible to read, which ought to have been a tipoff.

When you can’t make heads or tails of a newspaper article, it’s usually because the authors have no idea what they’re talking about and hope you won’t notice. Here Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was murkily accused of taking a bribe from a Canadian philanthropist who’d long ago sold his interest in a Utah uranium mine of no great value. A Russian company bought it.

The Times produced no evidence Hillary played any role in the transaction whatsoever — signed off on by nine separate U.S. government agencies unrelated to the State Department. But the newspaper had made a devil’s bargain with one Peter Schweizer, a Breitbart-affiliated Steve Bannon acolyte with a history of smearing Democrats.

It was one of those deals where all the “mistakes” ran in the selfsame direction. Correct the errors, fill in the blanks, and the presumptive scandal vanishes. Exactly as this latest, and presumably last, Clinton scandal has done.

So is Hillary without fault? Not hardly. Despite her humane intentions, like all politicians, she’s about personal ambition and power. And she has come to view journalists with thinly veiled contempt that many are only too glad to reciprocate.

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