Congressional Republicans, unhappy with FBI Director James Comey’s unwillingness to cooperate with their partisan fishing expedition against Hillary Clinton, dragged him in to testify. It quickly became apparent that this would blow up in their faces.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz — the ringleader of this embarrassment — and his Republican colleagues look like petulant children playing lawyer. Comey, on the other hand, has handled the GOP’s rhetorical fire calmly and professionally.

It’s rich that Chaffetz, and his BFF Rep. Trey Gowdy, are leading this contemptible display, given their own histories: Chaffetz, whose Congressional business card is printed with his gmail address, had to be reprimanded by Homeland Security for “an inappropriate disclosure of sensitive security information to the press by the House transportation panel that he chairs.”

Gowdy, meanwhile, has the distinction of accidentally disclosing “the name of a CIA source in the midst of a back-and-forth with Democrats about how sensitive the information was and whether its presence in former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email account constituted a security breach.” Whoops.

It is without a trace of irony that these men lead the charge against Hillary, demanding to know from Comey why she hasn’t been brought up on criminal charges.

The hearing has, unsurprisingly, been a series of humiliations for the GOP in response to their attempted gotcha questions for Comey. His testimony has confirmed that, in fact, the FBI really did do the thorough investigation he asserted. Yes, they asked this question. Yes, they explored that avenue. No, Hillary did not break the law.

Comey has now made it clear that the year-long investigation of 55,000 Hillary emails did not reveal a single email clearly marked classified. Only three — just three — of Hillary’s emails “bore markings indicating the presence of classified information.” “Bore markings” is not the same thing as “marked classified.” Comey said that those markings were simply a (c) somewhere in the body of the email and nothing in the header or subject line. He further stated that they were improperly marked and that it was reasonable for Hillary to assume they were not classified.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr., a Democrat from Missouri, gets right to the heart of what a futile exercise this really is:

Clay: So, with apologies to you and the FBI for this blatantly partisan proceeding, let me return to the facts of this case, as you have clearly outlined them. First question: Did Secretary Clinton or any member of her staff intentionally violate federal law?

Comey: We did not develop clear evidence of that.

Clay: Did Secretary Clinton or any member of her staff attempt to obstruct your investigation?

Comey: We did not develop evidence of that.

Clay: In your opinion, do the mistakes Secretary Clinton has already apologized for and expressed regret for rise to a level that would be worthy of federal prosecution?

Comey: As I said Tuesday, our judgment – not just mine, but the team’s judgment at the FBI – is that the Justice Department would not bring such a case. No Justice Department, under any – whether Republican or Democrat.

And if there were any lingering doubt that this is truly, at its core, a fishing expedition being used to find a reason, any reason, to protract this ludicrous partisan spectacle, here is Chaffetz, erasing all doubt:

Chaffetz: Did Hillary Clinton lie?

Comey: To the FBI? We have no basis to conclude she lied to the FBI.

Chaffetz: Did she lie to the public?

Comey: That’s a question I’m not qualified to answer. I can speak about what she said to the FBI.

Chaffetz: Did she – did Hillary Clinton lie under oath?

Comey: Not to the FBI. Not on a case we’re working.

Chaffetz: Did you review the documents where Congressman Jim Jordan asked her specifically, and she said, quote, “There was nothing marked classified on my emails, either sent or received,” end-quote?

Comey: I don’t remember reviewing that particular testimony. I’m aware of that being said, though.

Chaffetz: Did the FBI investigate her statements under oath on this topic?

Comey: Not to my knowledge. I don’t think there’s been a referral from Congress.

Chaffetz: Do you need a referral from Congress to investigate her – her statements under oath?

Comey: Sure do.

Chaffetz: You’ll have one! [laughs] You’ll have one in the next few hours!

The Republicans will, to their certain shame, drag this out as long as they are able, despite the fact that Hillary did not lie:

It’s patently obvious that Hillary has told the truth based on the facts she knew at the time. 110 out of 55,000 emails contained information that was NOT marked classified; nor did she know that they contained information deemed classified by other agencies. She stated her honest opinion when she said she didn’t send or receive classified information.

If Republicans were really in pursuit of justice, if they actually cared about the facts in this case and not just about yet another in a decades-long string of partisan attacks on Hillary Clinton, none of which have yielded any evidence of wrongdoing (beyond “carelessness”), this charade would have ended the moment Comey delivered this bit of testimony, his voice rising:

No reasonable prosecutor would bring this case. No reasonable prosecutor would bring the second case in a hundred years focused on gross negligence.

And so I know that’s been a source of some confusion for folks, but that’s just the way it is. I know the Department of Justice; I know no reasonable prosecutor would bring this case. I know a lot of my former friends are out there saying they would; I wonder where they were for the last forty years, because I’d like to see the cases they brought on gross negligence. Nobody would; nobody did.

So my judgment was: The appropriate resolution of this case was not with a criminal prosecution. As I said, folks can disagree about that, but I hope they know that view – not just my view, but of my team – was honestly held, fairly investigated, and communicated with unusual transparency, because we know folks care about it.

This is not about justice. This is theater, with the singular purpose of trying to discredit Hillary Clinton, who has long been a target of Republican ire – and for whom their resentment has only grown as she’s emerged unscathed from their ill-conceived investigations over and over, and now sits on the precipice of becoming the nation’s first woman president.

They haven’t been able to stop her, and it’s all they’ve ever wanted to do. So they keep trying. They will keep trying themselves right into disgrace and defeat. As always.

And if they have to take down a highly regarded FBI Director in the process, they’ll do that.

On a final note: I am appalled by the language that is being used by Republicans to talk about Hillary Clinton during this session. To hear Congressmen talk about “discipline” — a word that has been used repeatedly — in regard to the any adult woman, no less the history-making presidential nominee of her party, is making my blood boil.

(AP Photo)