James Comey is currently touring the nation as Donald Trump’s nemesis, which is fine. But if not for Comey’s inexplicable intrusions in the ’16 campaign, Trump might well be back in Manhattan hyping his hack business brand.
Before we overdose on Comey, who has seemingly popped up everywhere except the Disney Channel, we need to remember his original sin. He tries to rationalize it in his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and this past week he has tried to rationalize it in virtually every TV gig. He has not been persuasive.
As FBI director, he put a cloud over Hillary Clinton. He says his intentions were pure, that he wanted to be “transparent” about the probe of her private server, but in his high-minded bid to be apolitical, he put his thumb on the political scale. Thanks a lot, dude. Now we’re all suffering the consequences.
Elizabeth Drew, the veteran political analyst, says that Comey “played the angles a bit too much,” but perhaps the best assessment was voiced last week by Andrew Longstreth, a Brooklyn voter who saw Comey last week at an event near Times Square. Longstreth nailed the guy perfectly: “He comes from a good place, he wanted to do the right thing, but got in his own way.”
It all started in the summer of ’16 when the FBI determined that Hillary’s email behavior was not criminal. Normally, that would be announced in a single terse sentence. But Comey took it upon himself to break FBI tradition and make a long public pronouncement about how Hillary’s behavior had been “extremely careless.” Now, on his tour, he has sought and failed to explain why he took such an unprecedented step.
On CNN last week, Comey said that his goal was “to show transparency show people your work. So that fair-minded people can make a judgment.” And on Stephen Colbert’s show, he said: “It was the least worst way to close the investigation and maintain public confidence … Public faith in the FBI and the Justice Department is all we have … I thought that (public pronouncement) was the thing best calculated to protect the institutions I love so much.”
Sorry, that doesn’t pass muster. It was his job to investigate and determine the worth of the investigation. Period. It was not his job to calculate “the least worst way” to micromanage public reaction and nurture public faith. That in itself was a political act. Even one of Comey’s most stalwart defenders, Benjamin Wittes of the respected Lawfare blog, wrote at the time: “This is really not the way we want major investigations to be closed out … As a general matter, when prosecutors and investigators decline to indict someone, we don’t want a report … We want them to shut the heck up.”
Comey, having established the precedent of not shutting up, proceeded to double down on “transparency” 11 days before the election. His October 28 letter to Congress — announcing that the email probe was reopened, to examine stuff on Anthony Weiner’s laptop (emails that turned out to be nothing) — darkened the cloud over Hillary. In his book, Comey says he went public because he thought that Hillary would beat Trump, and therefore he feared that if she won while the reopened probe was conducted in secret, she’d be viewed as an illegitimate president.
He writes in his book: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.”
But it was not Comey’s job to parse the polls and vibe out a likely victor. Again, that was a political gesture far beyond his job description. It wasn’t his job to calculate whether Hillary would be viewed as illegitimate; heck, the conservative infauxtainment complex would’ve deemed her illegitimate regardless of how she won. They viewed Bill Clinton and Barack Obama; they view all Democrats as illegitimate. That’s just what they do.
Hillary wound up losing for lots of reasons (including her weaknesses as a candidate), but it’s fair to contend that Comey’s meddlesome calculations delivered the fatal blow that enabled Trump to eke out his win by 80,000 votes in three key states. Now we’re stuck with a demagogic, incompetent regime that can’t even properly vet its own nominees. All told, Comey got us coming and going. First he undercuts Hillary (thanks to his high-minded righteousness), and now he’s sparring endlessly with the guy he helped to install (his sparring is suffused with high-minded righteousness).
Enough with Comey already. He wouldn’t heed any advice from the likes of me, but I will now offer it anyway:
Thank you for your service, you’ve done enough. Finish the book tour and go home. Zip your lip for the ’18 midterms and the ’20 election. We’ll take it from here.