Home / General / Let Us Celebrate the Unimpeachable Nonpartisan Integrity of James Comey

Let Us Celebrate the Unimpeachable Nonpartisan Integrity of James Comey

Comments
/
/
/
1578 Views

lb-8

Back in the innocent days when we thought that James Comey had merely taken the unnecessary risk of blowing up the world rather than knowing that he succeeded, Paul observed that the Beltway rule of treating Republican Daddies is that no matter how egregiously bad and hackish their behavior and no matter how disastrous the consequences for the country, they must always be celebrated as men of the most Sterling Impartiality and Integritude. Susan Hennessey and Ben Wittes have cooked up what surely must be one of the spiciest meatballs ever served in this genre:

Here’s one key personnel decision, however, that is absolutely clear: FBI Director James Comey must remain in place.

Comey is not a popular man these days, with either the Right or Left. Many on the Right, including Trump and members of Congress, sharply criticized Comey’s decision to recommend Hillary Clinton not be charged over the handling of classified information on a private email server. And their cheering of his 11th hour letter informing Congress that the FBI was reviewing new emails related to the investigation did not last for long either. When Comey announced two days prior to the election that those emails had yielded no new evidence, Trump’s own campaign accused the FBI of outright fraud, claiming that it was impossible to review 650,000 emails (an unconfirmed number) in 8 days (it is possible, thanks to computer programs).

Many on the Left, meanwhile, blame Comey, at least to some degree, for Trump’s victory. They point, fairly or not, to his decision to inform Congress of the discovery of new emails before they were reviewed as at least a—if not the—reason for Trump’s razor thin victory. Even among those who do not blame Comey for Trump’s win, there is still a palpable sense among many in both parties that his letter was inappropriate, and among some that his highly-unusual July press conference was as well.

Moreover, reasonable people across the political spectrum [cites omitted- ed.] were shocked and troubled by the torrent of politically-motivated, and likely false leaks from the FBI New York field office in the finals days before the election. What happened there was not just the malevolent freelancing of a group of individuals; it was also a failure of management, one that damaged the basic integrity of the FBI as an institution. Comey has much work to do to restore faith in federal law enforcement and hold accountable those elements within his own organization that appear to have violated the trust of their offices.

And all that said, now more than ever, we need Comey to lead the FBI.

Whatever you think of Comey’s judgment or conduct during the campaign, his actions have unequivocally demonstrated political independence from his political bosses, as he has in the past. And that is exactly what we will need from the FBI in the coming years.

Ah yes, the core of many such arguments: IF YOU’RE CATCHING FLAK FROM BOTH SIDES, YOU MUST BE OVER THE TARGET! The fatal problems with this defense are that 1)Comey engaged in multiple instances of utterly indefensible behavior that had disastrous consequences and 2)Republicans have absolutely nothing to complain about. Let’s summarize the reasons that Republicans criticized Comey:

  • He did not indict Hillary Clinton over EMAILS!
  • He issued a letter two days before Election Day indicating that the investigation he had restarted into Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! very predictably did not yield any relevant new information about the trivial pseudoscandal being investigated.

This Republican criticisms of Comey, in other words, are utterly frivolous. Comey deserves as much credit for not recommending the indictment of Clinton for her EMAILS! as he does for not recommending indicting her for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Her use of a private server was plainly not illegal, and there is no evidence whatsoever that classified materials were intentionally destroyed. There is nothing there and never was.  Republican criticisms for releasing the late letter that further underscored how grossly inappropriate his earlier letter was and that may well have further hurt the Clinton campaign by allowing Trump to suggest that she got away with something are similarly absurd.  This is the self-reinforcing beauty of the Clinton rules: Republicans can manufacture the fog of scandal ex nihilo, the political damage can be done, and then a Republican who refuses to act on the feverish conspiracy theory gets called a great statesman. It’s a nice racket!

Meanwhile, let’s look at the Democratic complaints against Comey, some of which Hennessey and Wittes don’t mention:

  • When announcing his water-is-wet decision not to indict Hillary Clinton because she did nothing that was even remotely illegal, he engaged in highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate editorializing that played a major role in the trivial EMAILS! pseudoscandal completely dominating coverage of Clinton.
  • He engaged in similarly highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate editorializing about Clinton in testifying before Congress and in report the FBI issued before the debates, inflicting further completely unwarranted political damage and adding an official imprimatur to the chief Republican narrative about Clinton.
  • Against the wishes of his superiors and in violation of departmental rules and norms, he issued a highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate letter indicating that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! was being reopened, based on having found some emails on a computer that did not belong to Hillary Clinton, emails that the FBI did not even have a warrant to search yet. With the current collective margin in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin at less than 100,000 votes it is about as clear as such a counterfactual can be that without this letter the solid winner of the popular vote would also be the president-elect.
  • And is if to preemptively confirm that he had not reached a principled (if inappropriate and wrongheaded) determination that the governing rules and norms were wrong but was acting in a self-serving and partisan fashion when he sent the letter that blew up the world, he earlier refused to comment on an investigation that might be damaging to Donald Trump. In summary, where the Republican candidate was concerned, Comey followed the rules against unduly influencing elections. Where the Democratic candidate was involved, his view was “[w]ell, I know the rule is designed to make sure that our investigations don’t influence elections, but I think in this case, we should break that rule, because there’s an election, and we should influence it.”
  • As Hennessey and Wittes concede, he horribly mismanaged his rogue New York bureau, and in the kindest construction of his motives compounded the mistake by appeasing them.
  • The second letter, discussed earlier. It came too close to the election to give us a clear sense of what effect it had, but given that every previous Comey intervention was followed by a drop in Clinton’s numbers and that Trump overachieved on election day, the Clinton campaign’s theory that is also damaged the campaign is plausible. And even it didn’t, it underscored how inappropriate the first letter was — there was never any non-trivial possibility that the Weiner laptop would reveal material information about Clinton, and there was no reason to inform Congress.

What Democrats are complaining about, in other words, is a pattern of egregious and utterly indefensible misconduct that almost certainly had the effect of putting a unprecedentedly unfit candidate not chosen by the people in the White House. He showed himself to be an incompetent manager who made one catastrophic misjudgment after another, with the cumulative effect of quite literally undermining American democracy himself. The man should be a pariah who bears substantial responsibility for every bad thing Donald Trump does. And yet, astoundingly, Hennessey and Wittes conclude that we must not merely tolerate having this man in charge of the FBI but need him. The fact that he ignored his superiors in the service of personal and/or partisan agendas is being cited as a point in his favor. What can you even say at this point? We need him at the FBI because Bernie Kerik is unavailable?

I guess I can see a narrow argument that Obama shouldn’t fire Comey because Trump’s replacement would be even worse. But, actually, I don’t know that — his actions reveal him to be an ineffective manager with very poor judgment, and the consistent partisan tilt of his actions lends little confidence that his vaunted independence will be asserted against Trump. (I think the statute of limitations on milking that one time he stood up to Alberto Gonzalez has expired.) And there’s something about him just continuing in his office as if nothing happened that seems more than a little wrong. His nonpartisan reputation is a grotesque sham and his actions were unconscionable. And I find it hard to believe that the man who threw an election to an authoritarian will be an effective bulwark against authoritarianism.

In conclusion, I would like to offer some pitches to Lawfare:

  • We need Michael Brown at FEMA more than ever
  • We need Jeffrey Skilling as the head of a major corporation more than ever
  • The Los Angles Rams need Jeff Fisher more than ever
  • Huma Abedin needs Anthony Weiner more than ever
  • The New Republic needs Stephen Glass more than ever

 

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • eclare

    How the fuck do you get from this:

    What happened there was not just the malevolent freelancing of a group of individuals; it was also a failure of management, one that damaged the basic integrity of the FBI as an institution.

    to this:

    And all that said, now more than ever, we need Comey to lead the FBI.

    The best possible reading is that Comey is terrible at his job. Even if you think he’s honest and unimpeachable, he should still be fired.

    • Nobdy

      Easy! Since the Jeff Sessions led “Justice” Department will be using the FBI to investigate political enemies and “radicals,” as well as innocent Muslims, we NEED a rank incompetent to lead it, to limit the damage.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Republican Daddies can never fail. They can only maybe be lured into forgivable mistakes by Democrat perfidy.

      • (((max)))

        Hrmm. From my POV, Benjamin Wittes has always been an apologist for the worst excesses of the War of Terror, so it’s no surprise to see him being an centrist-spewing apologist for a secret policeman that just pulled a fucking coup.

        Speaking of whichness: (I think the statute of limitations on milking that one time he stood up to Alberto Gonzalez has expired.)

        I think the statute of limitations on politely avoiding calling the FBI political/secret police even with their political/secret police behavior constituting an ongoing scandal.

        max
        [‘So everyone, I would hope, would start referring to them that way.’]

    • kped

      The leaks from the New York office were brutal. That no heads have rolled shows what kind of manager Comey is, and it’s not a good look for him.

    • CP

      The best possible reading is that Comey is terrible at his job. Even if you think he’s honest and unimpeachable, he should still be fired.

      Well, the most charitable interpretation for Comey is that the FBI has simply been a snake pit since the day Hoover founded it, that using it to pursue your own political prejudices is normal behavior, and that no director that didn’t go along with it could possibly keep control of his bureau.

      Which I don’t want to believe, and the Bureau has certainly gotten better in at least some ways since the days of Hoover… but at the same time, I’ve always suspected that much of the Hoover rot never left, and this election’s done nothing to reassure me.

    • Snarki, child of Loki

      Comey can still redeem himself.

      By releasing the info that shows the connection between Trump and Russia, in this last week before the Electors vote.

  • Well, clearly the Rams need Fisher. They must know the secret reason, right?

    But yeah, unfortunately if Comey does get canned Bernie Kerik is likely to be available.

    • Todd

      Ben Carson could slide right over, assuming he isn’t tapped for a Supreme Court pick because David Petraeus was seen as being too soft on the constitutionality of retroactively applied poll taxes.

      • kped

        Ben Carson once tried to stab his friend, so he knows about law enforcement.

        • los

          Ben Carson once tried to stab his friend[1]

          FBI Director Ben Carson, February 2017: “We found some Trumpmails on Weiner’s laptop. We’re reopening the Trumpghazi investigation.”

          “closing”

          “reopening”

          “reclosing”

          “reopening”

          “rereclosing”

          “re…”

          _____
          1. keep your friends close enough to stab.

  • GeorgeBurnsWasRight

    I guess I can see a narrow argument that Obama shouldn’t fire Comey because Trump’s replacement would be even worse. But, actually, I don’t know that

    Even if Obama doesn’t fire Comey, we might get a test of this argument.

    Just one scenario: Trump orders Comey to investigate some whacko conspiracy theory he has, and Comey does so and reports no proof, whereupon Trump fires him and appoints someone who will find the “truth”.

    • Peterr

      What worries me with this scenario is that it would give Comey another opportunity to present himself as the Guy Who Stands Up to Power before he gets canned, and thus tries to rehabilitate him reputation from the compost heap where it landed after the election.

      • Kurzleg

        Undoubtedly, this is how things will go down. I can even picture the 60 Minutes interview fawning over Comey’s independence, sympathizing with the wrenching decision he made during the 2016 election and tipping him as the guy who can bring both parties back together (or something bipartisany).

        • BigHank53

          Comey/Jellyfish 2020! It’s the perfect No Labels ticket!

      • DrDick

        Except that the press and Republicans already treat him like a hero.

    • MilitantlyAardvark

      Trump orders Comey to investigate some whacko conspiracy theory he has, and Comey does so and reports no proof

      Why do I have a horrible feeling that Comey will just outsource it all to Flynnspawn and report that yes, there’s something out there?

      • Manny Kant

        No idea. Nothing in anything Comey has done to suggest he’d do something like that.

      • No Longer Middle Aged Man

        reports no proof

        You don’t understand. The obligation is now on doubters to provide conclusive proof that fake news wacko theories are untrue. Otherwise they are presumed to be true. Comey would report back that there is no conclusive proof that, for instance, the Clintons are not in the pay of Martians, therefore the accusation is probably true.

        • Scott Lemieux

          “The FBI has concluded that Hillary Clinton probably did not kill Meredith Kercher. But it was extremely careless of her to participate in wild orgies with Amanda Knox, as Italian authorities have confirmed.”

          • los

            Why have we never seen Donald Trump deny barbecueing LIVE babies?

            PIZZAGATE

    • Murc

      Just one scenario: Trump orders Comey to investigate some whacko conspiracy theory he has, and Comey does so and reports no proof, whereupon Trump fires him and appoints someone who will find the “truth”.

      Didn’t this happen in the Bush admin? I seem to recall Tenet was eased out because Goss was regarded as more likely to cook the books in his boss’ favor.

      • CP

        IIRC, it was basically 1) put pressure on the CIA from all sides to come up with the “conclusions” that Bush wanted, 2) when they turned out to be bogus, wring your hands about the “intelligence failure,” 3) use that as a pretext to remove Tenet and put in Goss, a good drone who’ll politicize it even further.

      • los

        cook the books

        Yu peepill cant hide what “books” meens11!!

        Thats proof Jeb Bush was at pizzagazi11!!

        Ernest T.Blogger

  • Peterr

    Ah yes, the core of many such arguments: IF YOU’RE CATCHING FLAK FROM BOTH SIDES, YOU MUST BE OVER THE TARGET! The fatal problems with this defense are that 1)Comey engaged in multiple instances of utterly indefensible behavior that had disastrous consequences and 2)Republicans have absolutely nothing to complain about.

    There’s also 3) There is a unified consensus that you are screwing up!

    If someone is driving a car down the yellow line of a two lane highway, folks going in either direction are likely to be screaming “GET OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD!” The fact that this person is catching flak from both sides of the road does not mean they are doing something right.

    Sometimes, catching flak from both sides means you are not qualified for the task at hand.

    • Nobdy

      Not in Washington.

      See also Liz Spayd and her “Conservatives are mad at us, liberals are mad at us, we must be doing our job!” opinions.

      Also Liz Spayd is just the worst. I realize she’s a minor figure so not worthy of much attention, but she is just literally the worst. She didn’t do Judith Miller levels of damage to the country but in a lot of ways I find her more hateable than Miller, probably because she is so self-righteous and totally unsuited to her job.

      • XTPD

        This is pretty much my opinion of Jack Shafer.

        Also, don’t know if things have always been this way, but an article Taylor linked here a few days back has the NYT staff straight-up admit that they tailor their stories to fit the prevailing narrative.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        She didn’t do Judith Miller levels of damage to the country

        Anyone with any authority at the Times, the Post, or any of the major networks is culpable in the downfall of America, so I’m gonna disagree there.

        • Nobdy

          Spayd has minimal power, she’s mostly a PR flack for the Times and theoretically a sort of ombudsman who can argue on behalf of the readers, but as a PR flack she is Baghdad Bob levels of bad, and she ombuds for the worst of the Times’ readers.

          I don’t think her influence actually did anything, but literally everything she writes or says is infuriating.

          • XTPD

            Submitted for your disapproval well-deserved incandescent hatred.

            • Nobdy

              The sudden bumper crop of “Are these Nazis REALLY so bad when you really get to know them?” thinkpieces has me feeling like I’m taking crazy pills.

              I thought the ONE THING we all agreed on was that we hated Nazis. They were the safe group to hate!

              Now everyone’s like “but some of them dress quite nicely and…”

              NAZIS ALWAYS DRESSED NICELY! THEY HAD AMAZING UNIFORMS! THAT DIDN’T STOP THEM FROM BEING NAZIS! WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON?!?!?

              • kped

                It’s very poorly written too…

                Not even those most depressed about Donald J. Trump’s election and what it might portend could have envisioned the scene that took place just before Thanksgiving in a meeting room a few blocks from the White House. The white nationalist Richard B. Spencer was rallying about 200 kindred spirits.

                I mean…we all actually saw that coming. “not even…could have envisioned”. Speak for yourself asshole. What does this clown think Hillary’s “Alt-right” speech was about? What did he think made Van Jones on the verge of tears? EXACTLY THE SCENE THAT HAPPENED! This was obvious, not a shock.

                • Scott Lemieux

                  “Well, we could not have anticipated this when we devoted our attention during the campaign to chasing Clinton snipe hunts set up by Brietbart News. Let us celebrate our agreement over a fine cognac.”

              • JKTH

                Say what you want about the tenets of national socialism…

                Pretty soon, people won’t understand that that was a joke.

              • BartletForGallifrey

                The sudden bumper crop of “Are these Nazis REALLY so bad when you really get to know them?” thinkpieces has me feeling like I’m taking crazy pills.

                I thought the ONE THING we all agreed on was that we hated Nazis. They were the safe group to hate!

                Now everyone’s like “but some of them dress quite nicely and…”

                NAZIS ALWAYS DRESSED NICELY! THEY HAD AMAZING UNIFORMS! THAT DIDN’T STOP THEM FROM BEING NAZIS! WHAT IS EVEN GOING ON?!?!?

                +1945

            • Mr. Bannon may have meant something quite different by the term. Last summer “alt-right,” though it carried overtones of extremism, was not an outright synonym for ideologies like Mr. Spencer’s. But in late August, Hillary Clinton devoted a speech to the alt-right, calling it simply a new label for an old kind of white supremacy that Mr. Trump was shamelessly exploiting.

              For fuck’s sake!

              “Alt-right” has always been a code word for “white supremacists and fellow travelers”. We know this because white supremacists coined the term. Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with it.

              Understood this way, the alt-right did look as if it might be a pillar of Mr. Bannon’s world Tea Party. This was especially so if you worked for one of Mr. Bannon’s enterprises. Last March, Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, a peroxide-blond gay Trump supporter, critic of feminism and internet “troll” of a particularly aggressive kind, helped write “An Establishment Conservative’s Guide to the Alt-Right,” which painted the movement as “born out of the youthful, subversive, underground edges of the internet,” treating the neo-Nazis in its ranks as unrepresentative.

              FFS, Milo got banned from Twitter for leading a troll brigade that was pelting racist and misogynist abuse a black woman. Maybe he’s not a reliable source.

              • Sorry, one more:

                Likewise, the common alt-right slur “cuckservative,” a portmanteau combining cuckold and conservative, is not just a colorful way of saying that establishment conservatives have been unmanly. According to Matthew Tait, a young ex-member of the far-right British National Party, the metaphor has a precise ornithological meaning. Like the reed-warbler… [bullshit cuckoo explanation]

                Idiot. “Cuckservative” follows “cuck”, and “cuck” is a porn reference. And, in practice, it alludes to a particular subgenre involving white men watching black men have sex with their (white) wives. It’s not just supposed to imply unmanliness, it refers to a supposed surrender of white, Western birthright/heritage to the dusky hordes. And, incidentally, it was commonplace among the “alt right” long before Hillary Clinton said anything about them.

      • XTPD

        Is she that much worse than Dowd, tho?

        • Nobdy

          Absolutely!

          Dowd, for whatever her faults, and they are legion, is paid to write her opinion. She does. All her opinions are terrible but in a lot of ways her terribleness falls more on the idiots who continue to employ her in op/ed than on her. I mean she’s lazy and repetitive and trite and has a lot of gender issues; she’s bad, but at least she’s in opinion.

          Spayd is supposed to be a check on the worst impulses of the paper and instead she encourages them, and then goes on Fox to apologize to Tucker Carlson!

          Her predecessor was pretty good and she is just…horrible. She does the opposite of what her job is.

          Dowd is just sort of incompetent and nasty. Spayd is actively and gleefully counterproductive. Dowd can be ignored and you can seek out other opinion writers in other venues. Spayd is the only public editor for the Times right now and she is just the worst. THE WORST!

          And she looks a little like Liz Lemon, which makes me want to like her, which makes it even WORSE!

          • XTPD

            These were mostly my impressions, but Schadenboner argued on the Putin thread that MoDo deserved more opprobrium due to her hit-jobs on Gore.

            • Nobdy

              Maybe? That was 16 years ago though. There’s plenty of hate to go around TODAY. We don’t need to reach back a decade and a half.

              MoDo is terrible, no doubt, but my hate for her is kind of baked in at this point. Liz Spayd is the new hateable face on the NYT block!

              • XTPD

                Speaking of which, any recommendations for the linked kill list? (I’ll swap out Cuomo for Tapper at CNN).

        • No Longer Middle Aged Man

          Nobdy is spot on. Dowd is the cop who is all about arresting people whose dogs shit in the street but ignores local organized crime’s drugs, prostitution and extortion rackets. Spayd is the judge who is supposed to assure due process but is in the pocket of the prosecutors. As someone wrote above, she is nothing more than a public relations fig leaf for the Times and a very bad one at that.

          • efgoldman

            she is nothing more than a public relations fig leaf for the Times and a very bad one at that.

            I’m old enough to remember actual ombudspersons at major papers, who actually stood up for reader concerns and weren’t afraid to call out their co-workers, right up to editors, by name, in print.
            Yes, children, it’s true.
            I know, you don’t believe me that most Republiklowns voted for civil rights, either.
            You can look it up.
            You don’t even have to go to the “library.” It’s in the googler.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Spayd is amazingly bad. Like make me miss Dan Okrent bad.

        • DamnYankees

          Dan Okrent is awesome about baseball. So that’s something.

          • Scott Lemieux

            Yeah, Okrent is a very good writer; that just wasn’t the role for him.

    • Kurzleg

      Good analogy.

      The other thing that’s irritating about this piece is that there’s no attempt to evaluate the relative strength of each party’s complaints. I guess it never occurred to the authors that Comey’s 10/28 announcement was the result of him folding to what must have been immense pressure from the GOP Congressional leadership and probably the Trump campaign. (I’m willing to believe that the latter announcement clearing Clinton was done out of a genuine feeling of obligation to be fair, but…)

  • CaptainBringdown

    I guess I can see a narrow argument that Obama shouldn’t fire Comey because Trump’s replacement would be even worse.

    It’s difficult for me to imagine that his replacement would be better.

    I’m largely sympathetic to your argument that he should go. However, given that we know there is a very large cohort within the FBI who are wholly in the tank for Trump, while Comey may not be a particularly effective bulwark against them, his replacement would likely be a gung-ho leader and enabler of them.

    • Kurzleg

      There’s some truth to this, but then the argument shouldn’t be that Comey must be doing something right because both sides hate him. It should be either 1) Comey helped create this dire situation we find ourselves in, so his penance is staying on and dealing with all of Trumps inevitable nonsense, 2) Comey may be a hack, but look at who Trump has appointed so far. Comey is the devil we know…

      • CaptainBringdown

        … the argument shouldn’t be that Comey must be doing something right because both sides hate him.

        Completely agree. I don’t think I can imagine any instance where “John Doe is good because both sides hate him” is a good argument.

        • Nobdy

          John Doe is a heel for a wrestling promotion.

        • BartletForGallifrey

          I sometimes sort of get it with straight news (i.e. not opinion) pieces–I’ve seen *literally the same article* be criticized for being TOO PRO-HAMAS TERRORISTS and TOO PRO-ZIONIST ENTITY, which meant that to the rational observer it was neither, but yeah mostly it’s bothsides bullshit.

          • Nobdy

            Sometimes a balanced, accurate, piece will be subject to attack from both sides because it doesn’t fit with their agenda, but the fact that it was attacked by both sides doesn’t MEAN it was balanced or accurate, just that it was attacked.

            I think the proper formulation is that “being attacked from both sides doesn’t mean that something is imbalanced or wrong” but it certainly doesn’t imply that it’s GOOD.

            • Kurzleg

              Exactly. In the case of this piece, there’s no attempt to evaluate the relative strength of each side’s criticisms of Comey. In fact, I’d say that in today’s political environment it’s practically obligatory for factions to continue to stake out their rhetorical ground by criticizing everything that does not conform to their formulations. So the fact that opposing factions criticize merely confirms a reality of modern politics and in and of itself tells you virtually nothing.

              • Dilan Esper

                I suspect it’s precisely the opposite. Most media criticism is pure masturbation. Just like most criticism of referees by partisan sports fans.

    • No Longer Middle Aged Man

      I can see Trump giving Rudi the FBI as a consolation prize for not getting State. I’d rather Rudi get State since he’d be a very visible colossal fuck up. At FBI his work constructing a police state would be less visible and less subject to the push back than he’d get at State from foreign countries and events in the real world.

      • Kurzleg

        Yup. Because at state the diplomatic core would serve as a mitigating (if not moderating) force whereas at the FBI the agents would be willing conspirators.

    • Manny Kant

      Yes. This. Comey is terrible and did a terrible thing and he should still stay on at FBI because his replacement would likely be much worse.

      • JKTH

        Couldn’t Trump just replace him anyways?

        • efgoldman

          Couldn’t Trump just replace him anyways?

          Yews, but he has to fire him, publicly. FBI director’s ten year term is not coterminus. He doesn’t automatically submit his resignation at the change of presidency.
          That was done theoretically to take the director’s appointment out of politics.

    • Scott Lemieux

      It’s difficult for me to imagine that his replacement would be better.

      Is anybody arguing this?

      • CaptainBringdown

        Fair enough. I should have said it’s difficult for me to imagine that his replacement would not be significantly worse.

  • PIGL

    in the unlikely event that a Democratic president is ever again permit to take office perhaps they will finally learn the lesson that shouldn’t need learning: Don’t Appoint Republicans.

    • Yes, and don’t act horrified when a snake, you know, acts like a snake.

    • Kurzleg

      What’s worse as far as I’m concerned is that this happened in late 2013. It’s not like this was a first-term effort to demonstrate that Obama was willing to meet Republicans halfway. Congressional Republicans had already demonstrated fully that they would never compromise.

      • Rob in CT

        Right, this goes down as a clear error by Obama. There is no defense for it.

        • Scott Lemieux

          And we wasn’t just a nominal Republican like Chuck Hagel; he was a literal former Ken Starr goon.

    • Domino

      Unless I’m badly misremembering, wasn’t Ray LaHood a decent Sec of Transportation?

      • BigHank53

        Yes, he was.

  • I eagerly await the forthcoming investigation of Hatch Act violations by Comey. I’ll go ahead and start holding my breath.

    • Taylor

      I don’t know why they keep the Hatch Act on the statute books. It’s just embarrassing. A public servant slips a Presidential election, and suffers no consequences.

  • BartletForGallifrey

    AFAIC, James Comey is a damn traitor. He’s done more damage to the country with his inappropriate, unethical, rule-breaking, and just wrong behavior than any spy could ever dare dream, while overseeing an agency charged with keeping us safe.

    If this had happened to a Republican, there would be fifteen committees holding nonstop hearings and Fox News would be calling for a public execution.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Yep, that’s a major difference between the parties. Imagine a Democratic FBI director — I know, but we can dream — doing a fraction to a Republican candidate that Comey did to Clinton. There would be a five-alarm 24/7 campaign devoted to making him History’s Greatest Monster. Whereas the most common Democratic/left reactions to Comey are silence and “let’s move on because it would detract from our discussion about how Hillary Clinton sucks.”

      • XTPD

        Talking about how Clinton is not literally the devil, and how literally everyone her know picking Comey was a terrible idea? Them’s fightin’ words.

  • Yossarian

    Portions of this argument–he needs to stay and fix the problem that happened under his watch–remind me uncomfortably of Rick Snyder’s justification for not resigning as Michigan Governor when the Flint water crisis broke.

    Critics: “You are manifestly incompetent at best and criminally culpable at worst in running state agencies responsible for public safety.”

    Snyder: “Yeah, but I feel a responsibility to fix the problems.”

    [MONTHS LATER]

    Critics: “The problem isn’t even close to being solved due to further incompetence and foot-dragging.”

    Snyder: “We still need to fix the problem. You are playing politics.”

    • Kurzleg

      I view it more as Comey’s penance. To the extent that Comey does still have any moral fiber, it’ll be tested to infinity under Trump.

      • BigHank53

        Whenever I hear a reference to “moral fiber”, I’m always tempted to test it by running the individual in question through the digestive system of an apex predator. It’s a pass or fail test.

    • Breadbaker

      Liberty University’s position on hiring the former Baylor AD is that no one is more aware of the Justice Department’s rules on Title IX than he is.

      • efgoldman

        no one is more aware of the Justice Department’s rules on Title IX than he is.

        Speaking of someone who should be living under a bridge with a coat hanger and a pigeon.

  • Marlowe

    Yes, it’s shooting fish in a barrel, but this really is one of the more ridiculous comic stylings to issue from the High Broderist pulpit (I’m not familiar with the authors, but they are both with Brookings, so it seems a safe bet):

    Whatever you think of Comey’s judgment or conduct during the campaign, his actions have unequivocally demonstrated political independence from his political bosses, as he has in the past. And that is exactly what we will need from the FBI in the coming years.

    First of all, it’s logic is just inconsistent. If you think Comey put his thumb on the scale for Trump (and the kindest explanation is that Republican Comey acted to avert feared Republican criticism, and possibly to outflank rogue subordinates he couldn’t or wouldn’t control), why would you simultaneously believe that a partisan actor, and likely ineffective administrator, is exactly what we need at the FBI? The authors could argue that those who believed Comey acted improperly are wrong, but they really barely bother to do so (and, as Scott noted, leave out many facts that make his actions on Clinton–and inactions on Trump related investigations–look worse.)

    Second, his vaunted “political independence from his political bosses” seems to consist of the fact that the Republican Comey took actions–against long standing DOJ policies–that were injurious to his Democratic political bosses, while at the same time declining to take other similar actions on the stated ground that they would be injurious to the Republican candidate and would thus violate the same policies he happily violated with respect to Clinton. (And IIRC, the Alberto Gonzalez incident, which seems to have cemented Comey’s preening reputation for bipartisan courage, was always overblown and undercut by actions Comey subsequently took or acquiesced to.)

    • Kurzleg

      For me, it boils down to the likely reality that Comey caved to GOP pressure to make the 10/28 announcement. How that demonstrates independence is beyond me.

      • rea

        It is not even that he caved in to GOP pressure–on 10/28 no one knew what he had disclosed, except a handful of FBI agents, so Rs couldn’t be actively pressuring him on the issue. It was more that he was afraid of being accused of being in the tank for HRC at a later date. And he was a Clinton-hater from way back–he was a true believer in the “Crooked Hillary” myth. (Obama should never have appointed an R that he could work with but his likely successor could not).

        • CP

          It is not even that he caved in to GOP pressure–on 10/28 no one knew what he had disclosed, except a handful of FBI agents, so Rs couldn’t be actively pressuring him on the issue. It was more that he was afraid of being accused of being in the tank for HRC at a later date. And he was a Clinton-hater from way back–he was a true believer in the “Crooked Hillary” myth. (Obama should never have appointed an R that he could work with but his likely successor could not).

          The highlighted part is all there is to it, IMO. No need to explain this in terms of “what forced him to do this” or “what did he think he’d get out of it.” He thought she was guilty and/or didn’t deserve to be president, and since he couldn’t prove it, decided to influence the election as best he could. Same basic concept as a cop planting evidence or committing perjury to “get” someone that he “knows” is guilty (or just really wants to get).

  • nemdam

    I’ll give Hennessey and Wittes credit for this: at least they tried to defend James Comey on the merits. Almost all other defenses I’ve heard just responds with “But Hillary was a horrible candidate!” which only shows that they aren’t even trying to defend Comey’s actions and are instead only interested in attacking Hillary. As Scott has demonstrated, it is the same with the media coverage. Rarely is the media coverage defended on its actual conduct but is usually just deflected with “Hillary is a bad candidate!”

    I should also note that even in the rare case such as this where Comey or the media is actually defended on the merits, the arguments are laughably and tragically bad. I think this should close the case on whether the FBI or media were grossly inappropriate in their conduct this election.

    • Marlowe

      But they don’t really defend him, that’s the oddly illogical theme of the article. They set out, with apparent seriousness, reasons (albeit a very incomplete list) why many in both parties think that Comey acted improperly. And then, with barely–if any–rebuttal of those reasons, blithely declare that it is “unequivocally demonstrated” that we need Comey at the FBI more than ever.

      • Kurzleg

        And treat each side’s criticisms as equally valid, which is the hallmark of both-sides-do-it laziness. You’d think writers for lawfareblog would be in a position to evaluate the criticisms.

      • Scott Lemieux

        Right. They engage in some “shape of the Earth, views differ” hand-waving but don’t really defend Comey’s actions, though they omit some. They even outright concede his managerial incompetence. They just move from there to “both sides don’t like him, which makes him a great man QED.”

  • Mark Field

    Just to supplement your point about the second letter, “late-deciding voters broke toward Trump” according to Nate Silver.

    • Dilan Esper

      It does correlate, so Scott’s speculation can’t be ruled out.

      But I suspect the most important factor was actually Trump’s celebrity. And partisanship was also an issue.

      People have to remember that polls are not elections. People can tell a pollster anything. So they do not, actually, mean that if the election is held 14 days earlier Hillary wins. Polls fluctuate all the time and yet fundamentals models usually very accurately predict election results- that indicates that a lot of the poll fluctuations are meaningless, either random variance or a result of respondents giving incorrect information about their actual voting intention to pollsters.

      A number of people probably used polls to express this or that short term dissatisfaction with Trump, who were always going to vote for him in the end.

      • rewenzo

        People have to remember that polls are not elections. People can tell a pollster anything.

        One might argue that presidential elections are just polls that oversample Ohio.

        • I polled Ohio, but my sample was gone.

          • efgoldman

            I polled Ohio, but my sample was gone

            Only time I was phone polled this year, I told them I was voting for Stein just to fuck with the numbers.

            I was going to leave a sample, but it was too early in the morning.

      • randy khan

        Well, yes, as a general principle, but remember that what we’re really talking about here are maybe 250,000 votes in four states – Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – a very small fraction of the votes even in those states, and that Clinton won the popular vote by a much bigger (c. 10x) margin than that. So even little effects from Comey’s actions were likely to have an impact.

        (And I’m not saying that there weren’t other things that affected the outcome, such as Clinton’s decisions about how to allocate ad spending between positive and negative ads, just that really the determinative states in the EC were so close that the breeze from a butterfly’s wing could have affected them.)

        • Davis X. Machina

          Every day it gets worse – 80,000 by recent measures. Not even a full Ann Arbor football stadium…

          • randy khan

            Yeah. The number I use is so big only because of Florida, which had as large a margin as the other three combined. (And I included Florida because Florida and one of the other states would have put Clinton over the top.)

      • Scott Lemieux

        But you’re trying to explain a variable with a constant. Donald Trump was always a celebrity, but every time Comey opened his yap — and not just the 10/28 letter — Clinton took a discernible hit on the polls. I agree Trump’s celebrity is an important part of the story and can help explain why he was a better candidate than the cw suggested, but that’s neither here nor there in terms of the effects of Comey’s interventions, which are really not disputable unless you’ve made an a priori decision to ignore the evidence or want to give up on trying to explain election outcomes at all.

        • Dilan Esper

          Donald Trump was always a celebrity (and was a Republican), and therefore WHENEVER A REAL ELECTION WAS HELD, lots of people were going to vote for him even if they told pollsters something different.

          Again, really, polls aren’t elections! They aren’t binding! And that means they can be used to preen and express dissatisfaction.

          I mean, I see this in abortion polling all the time. Ask someone about whether abortion should be legal in [insert less compelling reason for abortion here] situation and they say no. Ask the same people if they think Roe should stay the law of the land and they say yes. People use poll answers to morally preen or express dissatisfaction, precisely because there is no cost to doing so.

          And as I mentioned, if polling fluctuations really measured the actual state of the race, fundamentals models wouldn’t work (because what would matter is wherever the polls ended up).

          So the problem isn’t that I am “ignoring evidence”, but that polls are very weak evidence of the proposition you are actually trying to prove, which is what happens if the election is 2 weeks earlier. Unfortunately, there is no actual data for that. The only way to really determine that would be to, say, have an actual election (not take a poll) 2 weeks out, have another one on election day, and add up the results of both to determine the winner (so that they both count and voters can’t preen).

          • Scott Lemieux

            nd therefore WHENEVER A REAL ELECTION WAS HELD, lots of people were going to vote for him even if they told pollsters something different.

            This is a complete non-sequitur. Of course lots of people were going to vote for Trump. So what that doesn’t explain why every time Comey intervened — and, again, NOT JUST AFTER THE 10/28 LETTER, BUT EVERY TIME — Clinton dropped in the polls. Leaving aside the facts that there’s no evidence of a shy Tory effect and that the national polls were in fact accurate (the final 538 average was Clinton +3.3, which would be more accurate than usual), “Trump was a celebrity” does nothing to explain this consistent pattern. And your alternative theory that massive, demonstrable waves of negative coverage of Clinton had absolutely no effect despite the fact that the polls indicated that they did — is massively implausible.

          • randy khan

            If “polls are very weak evidence,” what’s the countervailing evidence that disproves their accuracy? The final polls were pretty close to right on the national level, after all.

            And, not that it matters, but your hypothetical experiment of having two elections two weeks apart wouldn’t work – the first election would lock in nearly all voters, and the campaigns would be conducted on the assumption that only the first election mattered, not to mention the huge dropoff in voting that almost certainly would happen in the 2nd election, so you wouldn’t have comparable samples.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        But I suspect the most important factor was actually Trump’s celebrity.

        Did he get markedly more famous in the last two weeks?

        One might argue that presidential elections are just polls that oversample Ohio.

        +538

        • Scott Lemieux

          Did he get markedly more famous in the last two weeks?

          Not only that, but Trump got more famous every time the head of the FBI suggested that Hillary Clinton was crooked, leading to media coverage dominated by assertions that Hillary Clinton was crooked. It’s an amazing coincidence!

          • MDrew

            What is it you don’t get about Dilan’s point?

            We simply don’t know that the correlation between news-driven short-term and fleeting polling dips and election outcomes is as tight it needs to be to support your contention. Notably, Silver has not weighed in further to solidify his rather sketchy case for a strong version of this view.

            We don’t have a situation in which a Comey moment didn’t happen and Clinton beat Trump, and then somehow there was another election two months later and there was no Comey moment and she beat him again, and then also in which there were two elections at those moments and the Comey events happened and the outcomes were what they were (times 2).

            That would need to be the case for this “two Comey moments, two dips!” argument to carry the weight you place on it. As it is, we know there were two Comey moments and two polling dips, but we really know about their relationship to voting on (and before!) election day. The dips were not massive; we know that polling is more inexact than the size of those dips.

            Comey’s actions might have cost Clinton the election, but we simply don’t know how they affected the actions of 300,000 voters or so in four states. Dilan is right that we don’t know that the effect of these news events on actual voting was the same as or at all represented by what it was on poll results. The time window (for the letters) and effect sizes (on the polls) were simply too small to have any confidence about that. Polling is not that exquisitely sensitive – in time or effect size – to actual prospective voter actions.

            • Scott Lemieux

              What is it you don’t get about Dilan’s point?

              I understand it fine. It’s just wrong, or more precisely it’s a non-sequitur. Your argument just uses a lot of words to say that counterfactuals can’t be proven to an absolute certainty, which duh, but the case that Comey changed the outcome is far, far stronger than the case that he didn’t.

              • MDrew

                My argument may be a non sequitur to whatever you think you’re arguing (but it isn’t to what you are actually arguing), but yours remains an assertion.

                What is the argument? Especially, what is your justification for your inclusion of the second “far” in “far, far stronger”?

                • The argument, which Scott has already provided several times:

                  1) “every time Comey opened his yap — and not just the 10/28 letter — Clinton took a discernible hit on the polls.” (a direct quote from Scott)

                  2) assuming these polls accurately reflected changes in voting intention, Comey’s interventions cost Clinton a significant of votes

                  3) Clinton lost several key states by very narrow margins shortly after Comey brought up the issue yet again

                  c) It therefore seems reasonable to think that Comey’s interventions were a decisive factor in Clinton’s losing those key states, and therefore, the Electoral College.

                  For Dilan’s counter-argument to be correct, it would have to be true that the polls not only did not accurately measure Trump’s support but also did not accurately reflect changes in voter intention of the kind that they registered after each and every one of Comey’s public statements on Clinton’s e-mails.

                  And really, where’s the argument for that? Shrugging and saying “well, we’ll never know for sure” isn’t it.

                • MDrew

                  assuming these polls accurately reflected changes in voting intention, Comey’s interventions cost Clinton a significant of votes

                  Um.

  • Nobdy

    REGARDLESS of his merits as the leader of the FBI (and they seem extremely limited) Comey obviously needs to go in order to enforce the important norms that he smashed, even if you don’t believe it was in pursuit of some agenda (which it was.)

    The argument is incoherent in a lot of ways, but even if you like Comey he has set a terrible precedent. What happens when a “truly partisan” FBI director gets in there and starts spraying accusations at Donald Trump’s opponent right at the eve of the election?

    • CaptainBringdown

      The enforcement of norms in this case won’t necessarily restore them. There are new enforcers coming to town.

    • BigHank53

      Paul Ryan on 60 Minutes, last weekend:

      “Who cares what he tweeted, you know, on some Thursday night, if we fix this country’s big problems?”

      That’s the new normal.

      • N__B

        “He made the grift train run on time.”

      • rea

        “Who cares what he tweeted, you know, on some Thursday night, if we fix this country’s big problems enact my radical agenda?”

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          “he tweets, I enact the Koch agen- no, I govern- it’s all good”

      • Murc

        “Who cares what he tweeted, you know, on some Thursday night, if we fix this country’s big problems?”

        He’s… not wrong about this, per se. If Trump actually did manage to fix the countries big problems nobody would care about his tweetstorms.

        The two problems with that are moral (doing good things doesn’t justify saying shitty things) and practical (Trump ran on an explicit platform of making things worse, not better.)

        • BigHank53

          It’s an extra frisson of cold fear when you think about what Paul Ryan considers to be big problems.

        • MDrew

          Murc, thank you.

          And moreover, that statement is killer politics. I guarantee 100% of Trump voters, 30% of neither-voters and non-voters, and 5-10% of Clinton voters agree with it wholeheartedly and appreciate it. That’s an overwhelming majority, folks.

          Democrats had better start figuring out what really matters to them in this situation and start focusing real fucking hard on it. Like, now. Or it, too, like the election itself, is going to slip out of their grasp before they’re aware enough to do anything about it.

          If that’s Trump’s tweets, then I guess that’s Trump’s tweets.

          • I guarantee 100% of Trump voters, 30% of neither-voters and non-voters, and 5-10% of Clinton voters agree with it wholeheartedly and appreciate it. That’s an overwhelming majority, folks.

            You personally guarantee that, do you? You do realize that a lot of folks voted for Trump because they thought Clinton was worse, so even that “100% of Trump voters” seems a tad overdone.

            But i guess that depends on how it’s framed, right? “Overgrown child can’t stop fibbing on Twitter” sounds relatively harmless, as long as there are adults in the room who can tame his impulses.

            But the important question is, can we trust a man who tells whatever lie suits him at a given moment to properly identify the nation’s problems, let alone solve them, instead of pulling the wool over people’s eyes to con them into buying snake oil remedies?

            If it were true that millions of people were voting illegally, that would be a real problem for the nation. But it’s not true. Why is the lie dangerous? Because it diverts attention from real problems onto scapegoats and promotes bogus solutions- in this case, voter suppression measures – that will hurt people and damage what remains of U.S. democracy.

  • DrDick

    Remind me again why anyone thought it was a good idea for Obama to appoint this hyper-partisan hack? Let this be a lesson to all future Democratic Presidents (provided we still have a democracy and Democrats are not all in prison camps) to never appoint any Republican to a position of authority.

  • N__B

    Huma Abedin needs Anthony Weiner more than ever

    I knew that the space-time continuum was broken by the Cubs, but LGM writing songs for Taylor Swift is a step void to far.

  • rewenzo

    (I think the statute of limitations on milking that one time he stood up to Alberto Gonzalez has expired.)

    Well, the difficulty of the situation is that the wiretapping thing really is a feather in his cap and demonstrates that Comey does recognize values outside of his partisan agenda (if not above his partisan agenda) and one of those values is the rule of law. Someone who recognizes that the law and the President’s orders are two separate things is the kind of person who needs to run the FBI. And it wasn’t just standing up to Alberto Gonzales, who was always recognized as a hack and a lightweight. Comey waged a year-long war from within the DOJ against the White House, Dick Cheney, and the NSA.

    I would much rather prefer somebody who felt that his first obligation was to the law and not his ass/party/reputation but I think we have to settle for this. Because who would replace Comey in a Trump administration? Rudy Giuliani would be much much worse, and he’s really not the bottom floor of possible Trump picks.

    I think a plausible argument can be made for the partisan benefits of Trumpian morons taking most of the government jobs and driving the country into a ravine, but I wouldn’t want Director of the FBI to be one of those jobs.

    • rewenzo

      A scary game is to play Who Would Trump Nominate To Head The FBI?

      Rudy Giuliani
      David Clarke
      Joe Arpaio
      George Zimmerman
      New York Post Editorial Cartoonist
      Clint Eastwood
      Alex Jones
      The Self-Investigating PizzaGate Guy

      • BigHank53

        Jerry Falwell, Jr, who just hired the athletic director that departed Baylor after their little exercise in suppressing football player’s rapes. Shit, maybe Trump would just skip the middleman and appoint the AD.

      • JustRuss

        I could kinda get behind Eastwood for FBI director, in a least-horrible, why-the-hell-not way.

        • (((Hogan)))

          If I ever need to interrogate a chair, I’d want him in the room with me.

          • N__B

            When you’re interrogating a chair, one cop is the good ass and one cop is the bad ass.

            • CP

              Ideally, yes, but you interrogate chairs with the asses you have, not the asses you wish you had.

      • BartletForGallifrey

        I’ve watched a lot of X-Files, so I feel qualified.

        • los

          so we’re back to Ben Carson, who inspired the x-files…

      • efgoldman

        Who Would Trump Nominate To Head The FBI?

        There was a governor somewhere in the last few years, don’t remember who, who appointed his/her driver (low-ranking state police trooper) to be head of the state police or whatever was the highest appointed law-enforcement job in the state.
        I can see Tangerine Cheetoferret doing something like that.

  • Gwen

    I suspect that if you look at Comey’s broader record you will find additional data points re: hackishness.

    Unfortunately the only one I can tender is that he has been front-and-center in pushing the “Ferguson Effect” theory that crime is rising because cops are afraid of doing their jobs because of meanies in #BlackLivesMatter and the ACLU.

    • Scott Lemieux

      I suspect that if you look at Comey’s broader record you will find additional data points re: hackishness.

      Oh yes.

  • brendalu

    He’s got a new boss.

  • Gee Suss

    I think it’s important to point out that Comey was involved in two Clinton investigations: Whitewater and Marc Rich. It almost never comes up in these discussions.

    • los

      so Comey killed Vice Foster. Now Pizzagate makes sense.

      /…

  • Alex.S

    It feels a lot like Bush v Gore with the Supreme Court.

    One of America’s top-level institutions, which is assumed to be nonpartisan, acts in a very partisan way to influence the election.

    Of note, Comey’s actions had absolutely nothing to do with the Justice Department or the investigation. There is no other institution to hold him back, except for possibly the President.

    Realistically, the only way to push back against a police force determined to use their perch to influence elections is a strong media that investigates and doubts their actions.

    Which is why I see the mainstream media not touching it. To say that Comey influenced the election for Trump is to admit that they got played and manipulated by an out of control FBI.

    But anyways, looking forward to 2018 when every single Democrat is mysteriously hacked and there’s a ton of non-partisan investigation by the independent FBI into the exciting new information revealed by the hacks.

  • michael8robinson

    Hey, look what I found:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Office_of_the_Independent_Counsel

    The Dept. of Justice made clear in no uncertain terms that Comey was on his own. Did he violate the Hatch act?

    There’s only one way to be sure.

  • rea

    “Because this is an ongoing investigation, we will not comment,” says the FBI after being questioned by reporters about an incident in Grand Rapids involving an FBI agent who opened fire on the local police.

  • Pingback: The Smearing of Keith Ellison - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: Did the Comey Letter Flip the Senate? - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: Don't Blame Loretta Lynch For James Comey's Subversion of Democracy - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: The Further Adventures of James Comey, Straight-Shooting Man of Nonpartisan Integritude - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

It is main inner container footer text