The transcript for the opening show of the Most Principled Man in America world tour is up if you’re so inclined. The constant pivots between discussions of how inappropriate it would be to let politics influence his decisions and his extensive discussions of how politics influenced his decisions is remarkable. The key answer:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you think that the F.B.I. would be in better shape today, the institution you love, would be in better shape today if you had simply put out that one line statement, “We decline to prosecute”?
JAMES COMEY: I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that a million times. It’s hard– hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’m not sure that it would have. And– here’s why I say that. Because we would’ve taken a tremendous amount of criticism for being fixed. The system fixed, no detail. And I still would’ve been dragged up to Capitol Hill all that summer to justify the F.B.I.’s work.
And so surely, I would’ve said something about how we did the work. And so I– I’d kinda be in the same place, except I’d be playing defense like a cornerback backpedaling. There’d be this tremendous hit the institution would take. I’d be trying to explain to people, “No, no, we did it in a good way. We did it in a good way.” And none of it, by the way, would change what I faced in late October. Even if we’d just done the one liner, we’d still have the nightmare of late October.
So, basically, 1)he concedes his primary motive for breaking the rules and making a prejudicial statement about Clinton was to shield himself and his agency from criticism, and 2)says he should be given a pass for screwing up in July because he still would have screwed up in October. OK.
Comey also essentially concedes the obvious fact that he was following the Clinton Rules:
Speaking is really bad; concealing is catastrophic. If you conceal the fact that you have restarted the Hillary Clinton email investigation, not in some silly way but in a very, very important way that may lead to a different conclusion, what will happen to the institutions of justice when that comes out?
But why on Earth would you think these emails would lead to a different conclusion? Unless you assume that Hillary Clinton is probably guilty of something and it’s just a question of what and how to prove it, of course.
Meanwhile, Carlos Lozada’s review of Comey’s book is absolutely superb:
When Comey cops to petty misdeeds, however, the self-criticism — and self-regard — is almost comical. At 6-feet-8, he used to lie about having played basketball for William & Mary, and he still feels bad about it. (After finishing law school, he reached out to friends and fessed up.) He once regifted a necktie to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “Because we considered ourselves people of integrity,” Comey explains solemnly, “I disclosed it was a regift as I handed him the tie.” And he congratulates himself for not exercising director’s prerogative and cutting in line at the FBI cafeteria. “Even when I was in a hurry. . . . I thought it was very important to show people that I’m not better than anyone else.”
But when the stakes rise, self-examination diminishes. On his decision to publicly denounce Clinton’s handling of classified information in her private emails in July 2016, Comey’s misgivings are cosmetic. He wishes he had organized the statement differently and explained early that no charges were warranted, and he wishes he had not characterized Clinton’s actions as “extremely careless” — even if “thoughtful lawyers” could understand what he meant. (Too bad thoughtful lawyers weren’t his only audience.)
But when Comey decided to inform Congress that he was reopening the investigation in late October because additional Clinton-related emails had been found on the laptop of former representative Anthony Weiner, transparency was not Comey’s only motivation; his political assumptions played a role, too. “Assuming, as nearly everyone did, that Hillary Clinton would be elected president of the United States in less than two weeks, what would happen to the FBI, the Justice Department, or her own presidency if it later was revealed, after the fact, that she was still the subject of an FBI investigation?” It is possible, Comey acknowledges, that “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.”
It’s a startling admission for a man devoted to “serving institutions I love precisely because they play no role in politics, because they operate independently of the passions of the electoral process.” His interpretation of those passions may have led to one of the most consequential decisions of the 2016 race. He’s supposed to be by the book, not the poll.
The rain on your wedding day is that Comey’s behavior was an absolutely perfect illustration of why the rules against commenting on ongoing investigations before an election are there in the first place. Anyway, to make a PAINFUL CONFESSION I once re-gifted a bottle of Yellow Tail someone brought to my house, so I hope I will get a pass should I, say, commit any improprieties that result in a white nationalist buffoon becoming president of the United States.
This point is also absolutely devastating:
Comey had to know Chaffetz would leak the letter on the reopened Clinton investigation. But if Comey had written, “This is to inform you that the FBI is investigating both major party presidential candidates,” Chaffetz would’ve dug a 6-foot hole and buried it in the forest. So…
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) April 15, 2018
Even if you buy the argument that Comey was justified in ignoring the rules in this case, there is no possible justification for selectively informing the public about investigations into the candidates and their campaigns. Which is why history is not going to remember Comey well despite his extensive PR efforts.