Above: Exclusive footage of James Comey’s tenure as a casino employee
Barack Obama, for reasons I’ve never understood, chose a Republican to be head of the FBI. His reward? James Comey — truly a hack in full — going over the heads of his bosses to send an letter to his Republican friends in Congress he had no obligation to send and contained no actual information but was worded in a way that insinuated that Hillary Clinton might have engaged in wrongdoing. I don’t know if Comey was consciously trying to influence the election in favor of Trump, but either he was in on it or he was too dumb to know he was being set up by Jason Chaffetz. It’s hard to overstate how disgraceful this conduct is:
With each step, Comey moved further away from department guidelines and precedents, culminating in Friday’s letter to Congress. This letter not only violated Justice rules on commenting on ongoing investigations but also flew in the face of years of precedent about how to handle sensitive cases as Election Day nears.
Justice traditionally bends over backward to avoid taking any action that might be seen by the public as influencing an election, often declining to even take private steps that might become public in the 60 days leading up to an election. For an example, in one case of which I am aware, the FBI opened an investigation into a high-ranking public official shortly before an election but delayed sending any subpoenas until after the election for fear that they might leak and unfairly tarnish the official. Indeed, that investigation ultimately concluded with no charges.
Comey’s subordinates have argued through anonymous quotes to reporters that he felt compelled to update Congress because of his previous explanations to them. But that just exposes how ill-advised his earlier statements were. Furthermore, even if he felt compelled to update Congress at some point, he could have followed Justice guidelines and done so after the election.
Supporters of the FBI director also argue that he would have been criticized had he withheld this information until after the election. But he didn’t actually provide Congress or the public with any substantive information. Instead, he provided just enough detail to allow Republicans to make speculative charges about Clinton, but not enough to allow her to defend herself. In fact, in the hours since Comey’s letter was released, media outlets have reported often-contradictory details about what the FBI is actually examining, another inevitable result of his actions.
In Friday, James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, acting independently of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sent a letter to Congress saying that the F.B.I. had discovered e-mails that were potentially relevant to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private server. Coming less than two weeks before the Presidential election, Comey’s decision to make public new evidence that may raise additional legal questions about Clinton was contrary to the views of the Attorney General, according to a well-informed Administration official. Lynch expressed her preference that Comey follow the department’s longstanding practice of not commenting on ongoing investigations, and not taking any action that could influence the outcome of an election, but he said that he felt compelled to do otherwise.
Comey’s decision is a striking break with the policies of the Department of Justice, according to current and former federal legal officials. Comey, who is a Republican appointee of President Obama, has a reputation for integrity and independence, but his latest action is stirring an extraordinary level of concern among legal authorities, who see it as potentially affecting the outcome of the Presidential and congressional elections.
“You don’t do this,” one former senior Justice Department official exclaimed. “It’s aberrational. It violates decades of practice.” The reason, according to the former official, who asked not to be identified because of ongoing cases involving the department, “is because it impugns the integrity and reputation of the candidate, even though there’s no finding by a court, or in this instance even an indictment.”
Comey should be out of a job as we speak, but the beauty of it from his perspective is that he’s politically insulated from getting his deserts, because for either Obama or Clinton to fire him would make it look like he was actually onto something, like a Saturday Night Massacre II.
I do hope that, at least, Hillary Clinton takes this as a long overdue hint that Democratic presidents should stop putting Republicans in important administration jobs. Even when, like Bernake, they’re competent and relatively progressive within their specialized fields, it creates the impression that Republicans are the Party of Adults (which is particularly silly when the typical Republican public official in 2016 is an ideological fanatic who couldn’t be trusted to run a lemonade stand with Ice-T’s supervision.) At worst, you end up with cases like this, when it would require the wisdom of Solomon to determine the precise ratio of malevolence-to-incompetence involved.