No amount of cynicism could have prepared Americans for what they witnessed on Tuesday morning, and 2016 has not been short on cynicism.

Viewers who tuned in to watch FBI Director James Comey update them on the status of the investigation into Clinton’s email server witnessed him rattle off a scathing litany of ostensibly criminal offenses. Only after he issued what can only be described as a serious if qualified rhetorical indictment of Hillary Clinton did Comey reveal that a formal indictment was most likely not forthcoming. More damningly, the FBI director only made the most perfunctory effort to conceal the fact that Hillary Clinton’s status had afforded her a level of deference no ordinary mortal would have received.

Comey revealed that investigators discovered Clinton had used not one but several servers and server administrators without proper security on which she housed American classified documents.

He asserted that 110 emails and 52 email chains contained classified information of varying levels of sensitivity, including the designation “Top Secret,” at the time they were either sent or received.

He noted that, despite statements to the contrary, Clinton withheld thousands of work-related emails from the trove of correspondence she surrendered to the State Department in 2014.

Finally and most damningly, Comey observed that, though the Bureau could not prove it, Clinton’s reckless handling of classified information likely exposed documents related to the security of the United States to hostile foreign actors. At the very least, he asserted that Clinton behaved in an “extremely careless” way.

“There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation,” Comey averred.

Finally, after all that, Comey insisted that “no reasonable prosecutor” would charge Clinton with the crime of unauthorized removal and retention of classified materials.

In making that contention, however, he undermined his own logic. He conceded that there is “evidence of potential violation of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information.” The FBI director added that he was not suggesting that “in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences.” In fact, legal penalties for lesser offenses along these lines are not uncommon. Merely that, “no charges are appropriate in this case.” Not even a grand jury will have the opportunity to review the FBI’s evidence against Clinton.

It takes uncommon credulity to disregard the politics looming over Comey’s decision. Hillary Clinton is the president’s hand-picked successor. Clinton’s husband, himself a former president, was only days ago thrust into an unforgiving spotlight for taking an allegedly social one-on-one meeting with the Attorney General of the United States. In response to that awkward revelation, General Loretta Lynch insisted she would follow the FBI director’s recommendation.

In his hands, Comey held the fates of the most powerful people on earth. Comey’s reputation cannot mask the stench of politics surrounding his decision. At a time in which illiberalism is on the rise around the world and authoritarian checks on self-rule are a vogue response to economic instability, it would be fair for anyone to view today’s development as an abuse of the public trust that will only further erode the public’s confidence in the capacity of their political class to manage national affairs competently.

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