Longtime Clinton confidant blames Comey for 2016 loss

Longtime Clinton confidant blames Comey for 2016 loss
© Getty Images

Longtime Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Dem strategist says Donna Brazile is joining Fox News 'for the money' CNN to host town hall with Cory Booker in South Carolina MORE confidant Lanny Davis visited his old friend shortly after President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Electoral College was 'conceived' as way to perpetuate slavery Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals to visit White House on Monday Transportation Dept requests formal audit of Boeing 737 Max certification MORE’s inauguration, hoping to cheer her up after her loss.

But the former Democratic presidential candidate was just as worried about him.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I’m fine. You’re the one that’s not OK. Are you all right?” Davis recalled Clinton saying. “It’s been tough, but you’re the one that needs to move on. You and all my friends, we’ve got to move on.”

Instead, Davis studied polls and recently declassified Justice Department documents to try to make sense of why Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election.

Davis makes his conclusion clear in the title of his new book: “The Unmaking of the President 2016: How FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGeorge Conway responds to Trump calling him a loser: 'Perfect example of the point I was making' Trump: 'I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be' Nadler 'encouraged' by response to Trump documents request MORE Cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency.”

Davis first struck up a friendship with the future first lady while they both attended Yale Law School, later serving as a special counsel and White House spokesman for former President Clinton. He’s emerged as an ardent supporter of the Clintons and is a contributor to various publications, including The Hill.

Davis blames both Comey and the Justice Department at large for decisions he believes delivered Trump the White House.

Davis puts much of Clinton’s election defeat on the “Comey letter,” the then-FBI director’s October 2016 notification to Congress that the FBI had uncovered another stash of Clinton emails from her time as secretary of State.

One week later, just days before the election, Comey announced those emails contained no new information. But Davis believes the damage had been done.

“Trump is resisting allegations of Russian meddling because he doesn’t want to be called an illegitimate president. I can’t prove Russian meddling cost Hillary Clinton the election — how many voters do I know were affected by a Russian Facebook ad?” Davis told The Hill in an interview.

“But I can prove by raw statistics that the change in status between the two candidates between the 29th of October and the 8th of November was caused by the Comey letter, because nothing else happened,” he said.

Davis dedicates his book’s eighth chapter to a statistical analysis of all the ways he believes the letter sank Clinton in the race’s final days.

He blames the letter for an overwhelming shift in negative stories about Clinton, a steady polling drop and a sharp decline in voter sentiment toward her, coupled with a massive increase in sentiment toward Trump.

From Oct. 23 to Election Day, consumer sentiment about Clinton dropped 12 percentage points while Trump’s rating rose by 8 points, according to marketing data from Engagement Labs.

Clinton’s forecasted lead in the popular vote evaporated from 5.9 points in FiveThirtyEight’s forecast the day Comey released his letter to less than 3 points one week later.

Clinton’s poll lead in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin fell too, by margins of around 6 to 7 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.

Davis doesn’t ascribe any broad, anti-Clinton motive to government officials or members of the media who he believes played a role in electing Trump.

Davis argues that reporters are “accustomed to going after somebody who isn’t being fully transparent” — setting them up for a clash with Clinton, who had grown wary of the media after decades in politics.

Davis compares Clinton’s relationship with the media to a Skinner Box, a science experiment where a rat learns how to obtain food by being repeatedly shocked for pushing the wrong lever.

“When no matter what you do, you get slammed by the media, it’s called pain avoidance, you … turn away,” Davis said.

Davis doesn’t believe that Comey and others at the Justice Department acted to help Trump win. But he believes overconfidence about a Clinton victory led those officials to unwittingly deliver him the presidency.

“If Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaWhatever happened to nuclear abolition? On The Money: Trump presses GM, union to start talks over closed plant | Trump renews call to cut arts, PBS funding | Alan Krueger, former Obama economic adviser, dies at 58 | Americans expected to bet .5B on March Madness Obama reminisces about visit to Ireland on St. Patrick's Day: 'It'll always be O'Bama' MORE, [former Deputy Attorney General] Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesA question of privilege: How Trump could still gut the Mueller report From border to Mueller, Barr faces challenges as attorney general Hillicon Valley: House Intel panel will release Russia interviews | T-Mobile, Sprint step up merger push | DHS cyber office hosting webinars on China | Nest warns customers to shore up password security MORE or James Comey would have ever thought their decision would elect Donald Trump president,” Davis told The Hill, they would have acted differently.

“Comey ... was more worried about what the Republicans would say after the election than following the rules and not doing anything to affect the election,” he said.

Davis’s charge that Comey cost Clinton the election has found validation within the Trump administration. In a letter written ahead of Comey’s firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump steps up attacks on McCain Rosenstein still working at DOJ despite plans to leave in mid-March Graham says he'll probe Rosenstein's 25th Amendment remarks MORE specifically points to Comey’s decision to “release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.”

A central tenet of Davis’s book has also been bolstered by new reporting by The Washington Post, which reported last week that the Justice Department’s inspector general is interested in the delay in investigating the new Clinton emails that prompted Comey’s letter.

The Post reported that those new emails were uncovered weeks before Comey sent his letter. Since the FBI’s ultimate review took about six days, Davis believes the case could have been wrapped up by Oct. 9, instead of two days before the election.

“I agree with Trump on one thing: Comey should have been fired, but by Barack Obama,” Davis said.

Davis’s book includes a robust discussion on the topic of impeachment and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office, complete with five “grounds for possible impeachment.”

Even so, the veteran of the Clinton impeachment wars advises extreme caution to those Democrats looking to boot Trump from office, calling on the party instead to defeat Trump at the ballot box.

“If they can’t attract Republican support in the Judiciary Committee, and therefore on the floor of the House, wait two years and beat him in 2020,” Davis said. 

“Learn the lesson of history of Andrew Johnson and Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonHill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides A Weld challenge to Trump would provide Republicans a clear choice History teaches that Nancy Pelosi is right about impeachment MORE. Bill Clinton’s impeachment was illegitimate because it was partisan,” he said.

But Davis also lists a few actions Trump could take that he thinks would justify impeachment immediately: a “reckless” provocation of nuclear war with North Korea, or a “constitutional coup” that would see Trump fire special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE and other investigators probing Trump campaign connections to Russia.

“If no Republican is ready to hold him accountable and our lives are threatened, even then I would like to know why [GOP Sens.] Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham: Dems want to abolish Electoral College because they 'want rural America to go away' Overwhelming majority of voters want final Mueller report released: poll Bottom Line MORE [S.C.], John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump steps up attacks on McCain Trump: 'I was never a fan of John McCain and I never will be' Santorum: Trump should 'send emails to a therapist' instead of tweeting MORE [Ariz.] or Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all Dem group launches ads attacking Trump's 'hypocrisy on Medicare and Medicaid cuts' Juan Williams: Don't rule out impeaching Trump MORE [Maine] won’t support impeachment.  I think they will,” Davis told The Hill.

“If my life is threatened and the constitutional form of government is threatened, then maybe Democrats will have to go forward and hope there will be Republicans who join,” he said.