MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Thursday night zeroed in on a key fact about former FBI Director James Comey's investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails that has gone largely overlooked in the new Department of Justice inspector general report.
As she pointed out, the report finds that James Comey's decision to release a letter announcing the reopening of the email investigation days before the election — an action that plausibly swung the election to Donald Trump — he made a crucial calculation.
"The inspector general finds that James Comey just didn't care if he might be seen as acting in a way that might hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign," she said. "But he really, really, really cared and he took great extraordinary action to avoid appearing like he might be helping Hillary Clinton in any way. that's how he weighed those two consequences.
She continued: "That's why I'm saying this is the big political point here. Because this isn't just about 2016. This isn't just about Donald Trump getting a little boost from the FBI to win the election."
In fact, she argued, this dynamic stretches into the present and explains why Trump is so obsessed with going after the Justice Department.
"You wonder why the president and Republicans today are attacking the FBI and attacking the justice department all the time?" she asked. "This is why. I mean, if you can just hit them hard enough, if you can just use conservative media to attack them hard and consistently enough, then you can make the justice department and the FBI worry about the perception that they might be perceived as soft on Democrats. It might overcompensate, right? once they're worried about that perception you're halfway there to make them bend over backwards for you and in this case break policy for you to make sure they definitely don't help the Democrats and they thereby help the Republicans instead."
As FiveThirtyEight founder Nate Silver pointed out, this same dynamic affected the media coverage of Clinton's email scandal.
"One shouldn't underrate how much the media's obsession with Clinton's emails stemmed from its obsession with fending off accusations of liberal bias," he said. "Trump had... LOTS of issues.... so there was tremendous weight put on this one Clinton issue to preserve 'balance'."
Watch the clip of Maddow's show below:
Once Republicans have the DoJ worried about perceptions of fairness, they're halfway to having law enforcement bend… https://t.co/jHJVbktEzt— Maddow Blog (@Maddow Blog) 1529027614.0