Monday, October 31, 2016

What if Comey had done this to Trump?

Think how loud the screams from Donald Trump and his angry supporters would be if James Comey had done to him what he has done to Hillary Clinton.    The charges of "rigged" and "using the power of the FBI to defeat me" would be astronomical.

The Clinton campaign, in contrast, has shown remarkable restraint.   First, simply insisting -- as she did with the committees investigating her on Benghazi -- don't just release cherry-picked, misleading bits;  release the whole thing, so people can see what the context is.   That was such a smart move on her part to refuse to testify in secret -- but only in public so all of her testimony would be open to the public.

Now, Democrats are standing up for her.   A number of senators have demanded that, no later than Monday, Comey should at least tell what he has, what he has seen, and what seems to be the impact for Clinton herself.

They've already said that none of the emails were either sent or received by Clinton.  So is this just ordinary email exchanges between Huma Abedin and her husband, having nothing to do with the campaign?   Abedin says she has no idea how they got on her husband's computer or what is in them.

Comey should also explain why he took this step, especially now that we know that he did it in direct opposition to advice from the top level of the Justice Department, presumably Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself.

As of Sunday evening, the FBI was still in negotiations with the Justice Department to get a warrant to examines the emails.   With no likelihood that this can be cleared up by election day, it is incumbent on Comey to do something to repair the damage his letter has caused.

Let's grant him the fact that he would have faced tremendous criticism, even censure, if something incriminating for Clinton had emerged from these emails after the election.   Still, he could have done some kind of notification that would have covered his culpability, while not inciting a political frenzy of misusing the information.   But it looks like he is putting the rather small risk to his own reputation for integrity ahead of the integrity of the FBI's long-standing reputation for not saying anything that would affect the presidential election in the last 11 days.

Comey may be a purist in following the law, but he is lousy at recognizing and taking account of the political implications of how he reveals things and how he says things.

Meanwhile, Newsweek's Kurt Eichenwald is reporting from sources inside the FBI that Comey's  own troops are furious.   One told Eichenwald that Comey "has mishandled public relations from the git-go."  Another called it, "Outrageous incompetence," while another said:  "If Comey doesn't get ahead of this, [we're] going to have a mutiny at FBI.   This is why we don't talk about investigations."

It's sad.  Comey was such a hero when he stood up to the Cheney-Bush diktat.   I was delighted when Obama later nominated him to head the FBI.   Now it seems that some character trait that made him the hero in one instance makes him a villain in another.

Unless it is that he already knows there is something very damaging to Clinton in the emails -- and therefore he would be even more vilified if he had not alerted Congress.   But that seems unlikely, given the reaction from the Justice Department and from Comey's own comrades.   I'm left to conclude that he gave in to pressure from Republicans who threatened to destroy him, if it later turned out that he had withheld incriminating evidence against Clinton -- that he did it for selfish reasons rather than for the good of the country.

The only other possibility seems to be that he crassly interfered for partisan political reasons.   And even now I don't think it is in his character to do that -- but it could have affected his judgment in a close call on the integrity issue.   Any way you slice it, it reflects very badly on his judgment and the neutrality we need in an FBI director.

Josh Marshall wrote something similar:
"At best, Comey combined extremely poor judgment with a decision to place a near absolute priority on protecting himself from criticism over carrying out his professional and ethnical obligations. . . .  What seems inescapable is that Comey has made avoiding criticism from Republicans . . . his top, almost his sole priority. . . .  It amounts to some professional equivalent of reckless disregard, perhaps with a smattering of generally irrelevant naïveté thrown in. . . . In this case, there seems to be no basis at all. Just the existence of other emails from Huma Abedin, which may even be duplicates of ones already investigated."

And to cap this off, some later news released Sunday evening:  The FBI now has a warrant to examine these emails, which had not yet been looked at for content.   Also in the news, some Democrats are saying that Comey has damaging evidence about Trump's Russian connections, so why isn't he leaking out innuendos about that?


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