By Thom Senzee
At least twice last year, it appears then-FBI Director James Comey bowed to pressure from Republicans in Congress to do political damage to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
As the controversy-ridden former prosecutor, one-time corporate attorney and now unemployed bureau chief settles into his new role as erstwhile presidential spoiler, Trump Memos in hand, an asterisk has become permanently affixed to the name, “James B. Comey.”
Maybe it’s unfair to doubt he was leading an earnest, even robust investigation into the 2016 campaign of Donald J. Trump and his alleged “Kremlingate” affair before the president fired him.
Comey may well have been doing a solid job investigating what could eventually turn out to be anything from “mere” foreign election meddling, to outright treason at the highest levels of government. But an FBI director doing his job in spite of pervading political winds had been the orthodoxy, and a nonpartisan tradition of the post-J. Edgar Hoover FBI for decades.
Let’s say he was acting in that tradition. It wouldn’t matter much because the very scandal Comey was investigating was one he helped create. Drop a dab of red and a splat of blue ink onto the asterisk next to his name before the black ink dries.
The blue does not symbolize the number of Democrats who lately seem to think Comey’s efforts under President Trump were heroic. Neither does the red represent the small handful of principled GOPers who also appreciated Comey’s work investigating Trump’s Russia scandal.
Now, if you’ve ever mixed red and blue with a little black, you know the result is a dark, bruised purple. No hue could be more apropos for the asterisk next to Comey’s name. Color it so.
But don’t mistake Comey’s purple asterisk for anything as admirable, so benign or in the least bit conciliatory as a swing state purple-colored star. Comey’s asterisk is the color of a bruise caused by tripping over his own duplicitous way of running the bureau’s investigations relating to Election 2016, most prominently his investigation of former secretary of state, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, selected Comey, a longtime Republican who says he no longer registers as such, to run the FBI when he, Comey, was still relatively new in the private sector.
He was, when Obama appointed him, lead attorney at a mega hedge fund called Bridgewater. Bridgewater, as HuffPost recently noted, was not only the largest hedge fund in the world, but it was also known for obsessively recording “just about everything its employees did,” according to HuffPost’s Zach Carter, who cited a New York Magazine article about Bridegwater’s CEO.
That gig followed his eventful tenure as deputy director at the U.S. Department of Justice during the George W. Bush administration. Both of those stints include acts by Comey that, upon close or even cursory examination, see the man tailoring, bending and breaking orthodoxy and ethics to fit a means to an end for which he saw fit to adjust on the fly.
Dubious Ethics and Double Standards
In the age of Trump’s all-out, hyper-partisan, I’ll-fill-this-swamp-with-whomever-I-want cabinet picks, Obama’s bipartisan gesture in nominating Comey back in 2013 as a kind nod to the GOP now seems naive, even quaint.
At the same time, Comey’s assessment of Clinton and her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, as well as the minimal ways in which her decision to use said server potentially exposed classified material to hacking by foreign adversaries or terrorists, is not at all dissimilar to a kind of judgement about tailoring the rules to suit his own preferences, which matches the former FBI director’s own mentality and modus operandi to a “T.”
Comey’s announcement last year that he had decided to clear Clinton of any wrongdoing, while simultaneously editorializing about her judgement was noted by pundits on the left as highly inappropriate and glaringly unorthodox.
Alas, who listens to pundits on the left?
It turns out that Trump, his communications advisers and even Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who appeared before a Senate panel Wednesday—one day before Comey), as well as a lot of Republicans were listening to the liberal punditry.
In fact each of the aforementioned have said that Comey’s comments against Clinton were inappropriate, unorthodox and inordinately unfair for a sitting FBI director to utter while last year’s Democratic presidential nominee was running for the highest office in the land.
Of course, they called Comey’s remarks unfair at a most inauspicious moment: almost a year after Comey’s words had harmed her and helped them. Such profiles in (ahem) courage. So many men with the guts to stand up against the interests of their own party.
For his part, Comey was like a juggler in a circus riding a unicycle on a wire high above a crowd. He said there was no reason to prosecute Clinton at the same time lambasting the former secretary of state for “recklessness” and “extreme carelessness.”
Late last month, The Los Angeles Times bullet-pointed many of the statements Comey made that were most egregious and most blatantly inappropriate. Two stand out to me, not because they’re the most explosive, but because they reveal Comey’s duplicity and hypocrisy in riding the bandwagon that says the Clintons play fast-and-loose with the truth; that Bill and Hill’ twist and turn the rules to shape their own purposes.
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statute regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” Comey said.
Well yeah, Jim. We assumed you were preparing your recommendation for a reasonable prosecutor—we weren’t thinking the U.S. Department of Justice was going to send your report to their resident “unreasonable guy.”
Comey went on: “I know there will be intense public debate in the wake of this recommendation, as there was throughout this investigation.”
Dude. I mean, Mr. Director, stop. Stop politicizing your supposedly apolitical investigation. Stop preemptively disavowing your work. Your politics are showing. I mean they’re REALLY showing.
And then there’s the whopper that really boggles the mind and bruises Comey’s reputation once and forevermore. We now know that the former FBI director was using evidence from Russia that he knew to be fake as part of his justification to investigate Clinton, in a bubble away from normal Department of Justice—here’s that word again—orthodoxy in the first place, while keeping that information from Congress:
“In this case, given the importance of the matter, I think unusual transparency is in order,” Comey said.
Perhaps Sen. Lindsey Graham put it most succinctly when it was revealed last week by The Washington Post that Comey had decided to manipulate what representatives and senators knew about his investigations by leaving out his own knowledge that a Russian document he had presented to Congress was fake.
“The FBI director knew that the information he relied upon to jump into the 2016 election was fake, that he basically took over the Department of Justice’s job based on a fake email from the Russians. That, to me, is a stunning story. From Congress’s point of view, he never told us it was fake. So he needs to be held accountable,” Graham said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Unusual transparency,” Mr. Comey? Apparently that’s a standard you claim with one side of your mouth, while the other pays lip service to integrity.
Now, color our democracy a dark, bruised purple thanks in large part to Jim Comey. Bruises do fade. Our democracy will endure these dark days of insidious foreign interference and insipid leaders. But we should never let fade the mark next to the name, James B. Comey*
*The man who played both sides of the political fence.
Thom Senzee is founder and moderator of the “LGBTs in the News” live-discussion panel series, and an award-winning Southern California journalist.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: