So, FBI Director James Comey, the most controversial government official in America, was back before Congress today, explaining why he dropped a political bombshell on the Hillary Clinton campaign eleven days before the election. His testimony came the day after Clinton re-emerged to blame Comey for her election loss, explaining, “I was on the way to winning until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on October 28 and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but were scared off.”
Comey, asked about the letter, defended it in passionate terms. First, he explained that on October 27, his investigative team notified him that they had found “thousands of Secretary Clinton’s emails” on the personal computer of alleged child pornography suspect Anthony Weiner, and that those emails included “what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months.” So, why did Comey then go public with that news, rather than determining whether or not the laptop contained such damning material?
And then I faced a choice. And I have lived my entire career by the tradition that if you can possibly avoid it, you avoid any action in the run-up to an election that might have an impact. Whether it’s a dogcatcher election or President of the United States. But I sat there that morning and I could not see a door labeled ‘no action’ here. I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled ‘speak’ and the other was labeled ‘conceal.’ ‘Cause here’s how I thought about it. I’m not trying to talk you into this. But I want you to know my thinking. Having repeatedly told this Congress we’re done and there’s nothing there, there’s no case there, there’s no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an act of concealment in my view. And so I stared at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad. There’s an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would be catastrophic not just to the FBI but well beyond, and honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we’ve got to walk into the world of really bad. I’ve got to tell Congress that we’re restarting this not in some frivolous way, in a hugely significant way.
This is, to put it politely, garbage.
Before we begin the analysis, let’s recognize first and foremost that Hillary Clinton is to blame for everything that befell her campaign. She purposefully set up a private email server and stored classified information on it, conveyed that information to Huma Abedin, and maintained her employment of Abedin despite Abedin’s Weiner problems. Hillary’s whining would be more grounded if she could seem to locate a mirror anywhere.
But back to Comey.
Comey knew full well he would be impacting the election. The same day he sent his letter to Congress, he acknowledged as much in a letter to his agents at the FBI:
Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record….In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood…
It’s nonsense to state that Comey wanted to be fully transparent because he didn’t want to get political. If that was the case, why expedite the investigation at all, as he then admits he did? Why rush through all the Clinton correspondence in a week? And if Comey was going to expedite the investigation, why not wait to come to a conclusion before announcing the preliminary news, to give the public a full picture of his findings, the way he supposedly did in July?
Comey says he felt “mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election but honestly it wouldn’t change the decision.”
Comey knew full well in July that he’d be changing the nature of the election cycle by announcing publicly what he thought of the charges against Hillary Clinton from the FBI side, and changing the law outright to do so. He explained to Congress that the only reason to do that was that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had compromised her own credibility:
A number of things had gone on which I can’t talk about yet, that made me worry that the department leadership could not credibly complete the investigation and decline prosecution without grievous damage to the American people’s confidence in the justice system…That was a hard call for me to make to call to the Attorney General that morning and say I’m about to do a press conference and I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to say.
Here’s the question: where the hell does James Comey get off breaking all the rules of his job in order to supposedly uphold the credibility of the Department of Justice and the FBI?
Imagine, for a second, the counterfactual. Imagine that Comey had made his report to Lynch as per the law, and that Lynch had been forced to go out there and twist the law. The FBI would have maintained its credibility, and Lynch’s would have been shot. Then, in October, Comey wouldn’t have had to craft a make-up call for his July abomination – he could have just expedited the investigation and come out with his final finding. The FBI would have come out of the entire issue scot-free, rather than politicized. The DOJ rightly would have been on the hook.
That would have been the way to handle the job. Comey didn’t do that. Instead, he decided to play Legitimacy Superman, and fell flat on his face – to the extent that the current president tweeted last night that Comey was basically a political hack for Hillary:
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
…Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2017
Here’s a basic rule of thumb for apolitical governmental actors: don’t play politics in order to uphold the supposed legitimacy of your institution (I’m looking at you here, Chief Justice John Roberts, the guy who saved Obamacare).
Trump should fire Comey. Comey has been a national laughingstock for months. Nobody trusts him on the left, and nobody trusts him on the right. People just cheer when he hits a side they don’t like. That turns the FBI into an untrustworthy political attack machine, and that’s the last thing we need from a law enforcement agency with the massive power the FBI wields.