Thus far, the presidential campaign has been a summer beach read of the kind you'd see generated from the pen of Lisa Scottoline, Nicholas Sparks, or Jennifer Weiner. It's had conflict, dishonesty, backstabbing, fashion, and, while thus far lacking a sexual theme, did have a debate over the size of a candidate's manhood. But now we're about to change genres into spycraft and political espionage of the type we'd expect from Nelson DeMille, Tom Clancy, or Ken Follett. Ever since Henry Kissinger said "peace is at hand" in the waning days of the 1972 election, virtually every presidential campaign has raised the prospect of another October surprise. This time it might actually happen.
Recall that FBI Director James Comey said he couldn't be sure whether Hillary Clinton's private servers were hacked, but did conclude that those with whom she regularly communicated were compromised. In his carefully worded statement, Comey said:
"With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton's personal email domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked. But, given the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence.
"We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton's use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent. She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries.
"Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton's personal email account."
His words preceded the WikiLeaks release of Democratic National Committee emails that are presumed to have originated with a Russian "hostile actor." WikiLeaks seems put off by the idea that Russia receives any "credit" for the scoop. When I discussed the situation on the radio last week with reference to a Russian role, WikiLeaks tweeted at me: "This epic scoop was born of 10 years' of hard work. Credit where it is due please."
Regardless of how the information was derived, common sense would suggest that anyone interested in the political party that just nominated Hillary Clinton would be even more interested in the Democratic candidate nominated for president. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder and editor-in-chief, has well-documented antipathy toward Clinton and has promised more releases of embarrassing information. Voice mails stolen from the DNC would seem to indicate that someone has already made good on this threat.
Now imagine this in the fall: Emails surface that originated on Clinton's private email servers. They are of a public nature but were not handed over to Comey and the FBI. Their content need not be particularly damaging. The only thing needed to harm Clinton would be that they were emails of a public nature that should have been produced but instead were deleted, and then ended up in hostile hands.
Such a revelation could end this novel-like campaign - a true October surprise - confirming Republicans' worst charges about how Clinton jeopardized national security in a manner that even Comey characterized as "extremely careless."
Last week in Philadelphia, Bill Clinton called his wife a "change maker" - that would be a game changer!
Unless, of course, Donald Trump bobbles this potential gift before it falls in his lap. That's entirely possible. He has no filter and just can't help himself. On Wednesday he said: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press." Later he and his surrogates tried to dismiss his statement as a jest. "Of course I'm being sarcastic," he told Fox News.
What Trump should have done was condemn all hacking by actors foreign and domestic, and then sat back until this story arc reached another plot point. Instead he provided Democrats with an opportunity to cast him as siding with Vladimir Putin against America, which, if successful, could obscure Clinton's negligent behavior in relying on a private server even if it was hacked.
If DeMille were writing it, his chief protagonist, former NYPD cop John Corey, would: muzzle Trump, censure Clinton, depose Putin, and ensure that Khizr Khan - the breakout star of the final night of the Democratic convention - is the next American president. All of which sounds far-fetched, except when viewed against the backdrop of this election.