Sari Horowitz has a good deep dive into the crisis that James Comey’s announcement that he intended to subvert a presidential election because he wanted to send a letter based on no information about a trivial pseudo-scandal created. First, for the “let’s just move on and focus on how someone who will never be a presidential candidate again sucks” crowd:
Into that vacuum stepped Comey, an FBI director who prides himself on having a finely tuned moral compass that allows him to rise above politics. [LOLLOLLOLLOL — ed.] Weeks before the letter, Comey had advised against the Obama administration public statement admonishing Russia for the Democratic Party hacks, arguing it would make the administration appear partisan too close to the election. But to him, the Clinton email investigation was different.
Battered by Republican lawmakers during a hearing that summer, Comey feared he would come under further attack if word leaked about the Clinton case picking up again. He was surprised by the intensity of the reaction to his letter, according to people familiar with Comey’s thinking. His reputation fell further after the FBI acknowledged three days before the election that the emails amounted to nothing.
Working the refs works. The idea that we should just let Comey throwing the election go — even though outrage is eminently justified on the merits! — is insane.
Since Comey’s selective unwillingness to intervene in the election leaves absolutely no doubt about his egregious misconduct and partisan hackery, his allies have no choice but to find people to shift the blame to:
Jack Goldsmith, a Harvard Law School professor and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said that the controversy shines a light on Lynch’s compromised position and failed leadership as attorney general.
“If she thought [the letter] violated department policy or was otherwise a bad idea, she could have ordered him not to send the letter,” said Goldsmith, who noted that soon after the letter was released, Justice officials proceeded to criticize Comey when Lynch had the power all along to stop him. “It was an astonishing failure of leadership and eschewal of responsibility, especially if Lynch really thought what Comey did was wrong.”
I trust the problem with this argument is obvious. Had Lynch ordered Comey not to send the letter to Congress, word would have nearly-instantaneously leaked out of the Federal Sieve of Investigation. Hence, the final days of the campaign still would have been dominated by coverage of Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS!, only with Lynch being cast in the John Mitchell role of trying to cover up the wrongdoing apparently uncovered by straight-shooting, nonpartisan, FIERCELY INDEPENDENT FBI director James Comey. This strikes me as as bad or worse than what did happen. Given how close Comey’s actions were to the election, he held all the cards. If he was determined to egregiously violate department rules and norms and insert baseless but highly prejudicial innuendoes about Hillary Clinton into the campaign, Lynch couldn’t stop him; she could at best affect the form in which the information came out. And, of course, “I can’t be blamed for my grossly unethical conduct because my supervisor should have stopped me!” isn’t much of a defense in the first place.
Horowitz has a second, marginally more plausible candidate to share the blame:
At first, the staffers could not tell who it was. But then, as the man got close to the airplane steps, one of the staffers said with surprise, “Is that Bill Clinton?”
It was. Clinton had just wrapped up a fundraiser for his wife and arrived at the tarmac to fly out of Phoenix. His Secret Service detail tipped him off that Lynch was there, too, and he sent word that he wanted to say hello.
Lynch felt she could not say no to the former president, who 17 years ago promoted her to U.S. attorney. Once inside the plane, Lynch said that she, Clinton and her husband discussed their travels, Clinton’s grandchildren, golfing and Brexit.
But as the visit dragged on, Lynch became anxious. The Justice Department was still conducting an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices during her tenure as secretary of state. Lynch had just wanted to say a quick hello to Bill Clinton, and now they had been talking for close to half an hour.
Clinton’s decision to meet with Lynch was a dumb, tone-deaf decision by someone who pretty clearly has lost quite a bit off his political fastball. But it didn’t materially alter the fundamental dynamic. It was a further disincentive against Lynch intervening and telling Comey to keep his yap shut, but the ability of Comey and his allies to leak his intention to inform Congress was in itself sufficient to give Comey all the leverage.
Lynch’s decision to try to persuade Comey to do the right thing was almost certainly her best option under impossible political circumstances. Comey’s decision to violate norms and rules to intervene in the election although he had no information about a gnat fart of a scandal, a decision that led to Donald Trump becoming president contrary to the will of the electorate, is his and his alone.