Conservatives Know That Emailgate Is Bullshit, and Game Theory Proves It

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Conservatives crack me up sometimes. Here is NR’s newest writer, Dan McLaughlin:

Now that President Obama has formally endorsed his former Secretary of State for President, it’s no longer possible for him — or a Justice Department directly answerable to him — to rule impartially on whether she or her close associates should be indicted over her mishandling of classified emails….The problem of an Administration investigating itself is an intractable one, and we should not want a return to the unconstitutional, abusive runaway prosecutorial system that existed under the Independent Counsel statute during the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton years.

So what’s the answer? To appoint a special prosecutor, of course.

This is transparent special pleading. Obama has always supported both Hillary and Bernie. He’s a Democrat. Nothing in his official endorsement of Hillary today changes that. Nor does the nonpartisanship of the FBI change in any way. If their investigation produces evidence of lawlessness but Loretta Lynch decides not to prosecute Hillary regardless, that would be far more damaging than anything a special prosecutor could ever do.

But appointing a special prosecutor does accomplish one thing: it stretches out the investigation. So how does that work out? We elite blogger types are fond of pseudo-sophisticated stuff like “explaining” things in terms of game theory, so let’s give that a try. Here’s a simple game theory matrix that shows the possible outcomes of the email investigation:

The thing to note is that the DOJ investigation is clearly better for Republicans if the current FBI investigation indicates that Hillary is guilty. Either she’s indicted and her campaign is over, or Loretta Lynch refuses to file charges and produces a massive backlash that almost certainly wrecks Hillary’s campaign. By contrast, a special prosecutor produces very little that would harm Hillary during the campaign.

But if Hillary is innocent, then the special prosecutor is a better choice because there’s no prospect of a clear exoneration during the campaign. Regardless of the evidence, a special prosecutor would stretch things out for many more months, leaking lovely tidbits along the way.

In game theory terms, then, a DOJ investigation is the dominant conservative strategy if Hillary broke the law. A special prosecutor is the dominant conservative strategy if Hillary did nothing illegal. (Dumb, maybe, but not illegal.) So the fact that conservatives like McLaughlin want a special prosecutor is pretty good evidence that they know perfectly well she’s innocent. If they really thought she was guilty, they’d be salivating over the upcoming FBI report and utterly opposed to anything that might delay it.

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

MOTHER JONES NEEDS YOUR HELP

Straight to the point: Donations have been concerningly slow for our hugely important First $500,000 fundraising campaign. We urgently need your help, and a lot of help, over the next few weeks so we can pay for the one-of-a-kind journalism you get from us.

Learn more in “Less Dreading, More Doing,” where we lay out this wild moment and how we can keep charging hard for you. And please help if you can: $5, $50, or $500—every gift from every person truly matters right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate