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    Criminal intent: The intent to commit a crime; malice, as evidenced by a criminal act. – Black’s Law Dictionary

     Intent: Design, resolve or determination with which a person acts. Being a state of mind, is rarely susceptible of direct proof, but most ordinarily be inferred from the facts. It presupposes knowledge. – Black’s Law Dictionary

Being retired – and eternally seeking entertainment as well as enlightenment – I watched the House Oversight Committee grill FBI Director James Comey last week.

An odd way to fill a morning, you might think. But it was fascinating, watching committee members alternately challenge or praise Comey, depending on their political bent.

Much of the debate hinged on the meaning of the word “intent” or “criminal intent.”      While Comey said he couldn’t prove Mrs. Clinton had “criminal intent” when she set up personal email servers to handle sensitive and classified government business, Rep. Trey Gowdy asked a series of questions showing that the former Secretary of State had not been truthful at an earlier hearing.

Though he agreed with the points Gowdy raised, Comey would not budge on his recommendation. Mrs. Clinton was extremely careless, he said, even negligent. The word “reckless” also was invoked. But there was no provable “criminal intent.”

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz pointed out that Mrs. Clinton had to have known she was breaking the law by setting up the private communication system, and even more damning, that her statements at an earlier federal hearing were directly contradicted by Comey’s own findings and own words.

Yes, the FBI director agreed, and said that she would be subject to some sort of punishment – if she still worked for the government, which she does not, at least not yet.

Lawyers fight over evidence, procedure, motions, and words.  “Intent,” which most people would define as knowing what outcome your actions will lead to, was the key to the lock of the jailhouse door that Republicans sought for Mrs. Clinton. Did she not know her actions were breaking the law?  She’s a Yale Law School graduate, former secretary of state, and U.S. senator. It would be difficult to find a person with broader life experiences.

There is basis for the nagging feeling that a similar act by someone else would have led to a different result. This probably cannot be proven, but it feeds the anger and insecurities of a deeply divided nation, the depth of which has not been seen since the Vietnam War, and possibly even the Civil War.

July 7, 2016