It is not as if the 2016 presidential election campaign needed a single plot twist more to make it the most bizarre series of political events since Caligula tried to appoint his horse as consul of Rome. Nevertheless, it has, indeed, gotten weirder now that Anthony Weiner's sexting escapades have been brought into the mix.
The once-rising Democratic Party star took a great fall in 2011 after being forced to confess he had "exchanged messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years." Weiner tried for a comeback in 2013 when he ran for mayor, but his political resuscitation went awry when it was revealed he had been sending crotch shots to another woman under the alias "Carlos Danger."
Even then, the sexting did not stop. This year, Weiner was caught sending a provocative photo of himself to yet another woman. This image was especially stomach-turning since it included his toddler son sleeping next to him in bed. Finally, the FBI got involved when one of Weiner's sexting buddies was alleged to be a 15-year-old girl. That is how he got himself a bit part in the presidential campaign melodrama.
On Friday, FBI Director James B. Comey sent a letter to Congress saying he was taking another look at the bureau's recently concluded investigation into Hillary Clinton's misuse of a private email server while she was secretary of State. While investigating allegations of Weiner's sexting with the teen, the FBI found a cache of emails on the computer he shared with his now-estranged wife, Huma Abedin, who just happens to be one of Clinton's closest aides — emails that, Comey said, "appear to be pertinent" to the investigation of the former secretary of State's server.
Comey's note set off a massive stink bomb in the presidential race and upended conventional electoral calculations that have been saying Clinton could safely pencil in an inauguration speech for Jan. 20. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was unrestrained in his glee and his rhetoric. Immediately, he began telling revved-up crowds at his rallies that perhaps the system is not rigged after all. "They are reopening the case into her criminal and illegal conduct that threatens the security of the United States of America," Trump declared. "Hillary Clinton's corruption is on a scale that we have never seen before."
He added even more wild hyperbole in his public pitches Monday, saying "we can be sure" the emails on Weiner's computer will reveal "a most egregious offense" and that "concealing her criminal conduct" was Clinton's obvious purpose in having a private server.
Of course, as in most things he says, Trump was not accurate. The "case" has not been reopened, nor is there any evidence that Clinton's "criminal conduct" is anything more than a bureaucratic management failure. In a letter to FBI employees, Comey tried to calm the storm that he unleashed and that Trump is riding. He essentially confirmed that the bureau has no idea if the emails on the Weiner-Abedin computer have any importance or if they have any direct connection to Clinton and said, "I don't want to create a misleading impression."
That's a laughable remark, since a very huge misleading impression has been created and is having a dramatic effect on the campaign. Trump suddenly has new hope, Clinton suddenly has a new problem and Comey is being excoriated for violating longstanding FBI practices. The rule has long been that details of ongoing investigations are not disclosed until the inquiry is complete to avoid tainting the reputations of the innocent, especially if such action would intrude on an election campaign. Comey shattered that prudent tradition, apparently to avoid creating problems for himself with congressional Republicans who were miffed that he failed to pillory Hillary in the email probe.
Despite Trump's rants, this new email revelation tells us pretty much nothing. Still, the return of "Carlos Danger" to the stage has heightened the campaign's already stratospheric entertainment value. Now, if only Bill Cosby and O.J. Simpson can be written into the script before election day …
Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter
MORE TOP OF THE TICKET