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Cohen commentary: Director Comey, what's this all about?

Beyond the precedent that the Justice Department, particularly the FBI, bends over backward not to interfere in a presidential election, there is yet another precedent, this one established during the Monica Lewinsky investigation: A high officia...

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Beyond the precedent that the Justice Department, particularly the FBI, bends over backward not to interfere in a presidential election, there is yet another precedent, this one established during the Monica Lewinsky investigation: A high official, under pressure from both Congress and the press, can lose his mind. The mind belonged to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, who back in the winter of 1997, signaled he had more than enough of Bill Clinton, sex that wasn't sex, a dress no longer suitable for a casual date, and other such matters and was quitting. He would repair to Pepperdine University and become dean of its law school. Then all hell broke loose.

Republican members of Congress denounced Starr for cutting and running. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a member of the all-important Judiciary Committee, asked Starr to reconsider. William Safire, then the biggest gun on the New York Times' op-ed page, was less judicious. His column was entitled "The Big Flinch." He called Starr a wimp who had brought "shame on the legal profession"-as if such a thing is possible. It seemed it was, and Starr retracted his resignation, stayed in Washington, hounded Clinton into impeachment and, in general, soiled a promising legal career that once had him on some short lists for the Supreme Court.

I tell you this sad tale of opportunity missed just to illustrate how political pressure and the braying of the media can addle the minds of otherwise smart people. This is what happened to Ken Starr and it seems to have happened to James Comey, the director of the FBI, although maybe not for much longer. Twice now, he has lost his bearings, stepped out of his role as top cop and decided he was prosecutor instead. In July, he announced that the FBI had concluded its investigation into the Hillary Clinton email server and found nothing worth prosecuting. He did find that her handling of her emails had been "extremely careless."

For recommending against indictment, Comey was vilified by the right, particularly by Donald Trump. Others had a different criticism: Comey should have said nothing at all. The decision to prosecute is made by the Justice Department, not the FBI. Now Comey has announced that the investigation that seemed closed remains open. He announced this less than two weeks before Election Day, virtually reviving a dormant Trump campaign. "Bigger than Watergate," Trump observed.

What's going on? We don't know. An astounding 650,000 emails were found by the FBI on the laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the now-estranged (and always strange) husband of Huma Abedin, Clinton's No. 1 aide. This could be a device that Weiner allegedly used to send filthy pictures of himself to women both young and old, one purportedly a mere 15. It's possible the emails are duplicates of what the FBI has already seen on Clinton's private server.

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From the very start, I've felt that this whole business of Hillary Clinton's email server has been ridiculously hyped. She shouldn't have done it. Granted. She's hiding something. Granted. She's even hiding that she's hiding something. But she didn't commit treason, and the nation's security has not been endangered as far as we know. If there's no crime, let's move on. The threat is not Clinton and her BlackBerry, but the Russians and their military-industrial-hacking complex.

But Comey, buffeted from both sides and possessed of a fiery moralism, has now possibly thrown the election into doubt. What's this all about, Jim? We-the voters-need to know. Still, some voters are undecided. Both candidates have the negative ratings of bill collectors. Now that Comey has broken established practice and intruded into the elections, he needs to say why? It better be good or else he should do what Starr in the end didn't: quit.

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