James Comey's unforgivable error

At the end of an interview with CNN Thursday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey was asked by Jake Tapper abou...

Posted: Apr 20, 2018 10:23 AM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 10:23 AM

At the end of an interview with CNN Thursday afternoon, former FBI Director James Comey was asked by Jake Tapper about his unusual place in American politics as a man equally "reviled" by partisans of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

Clinton's most ardent supporters insist Comey had it in for their candidate in 2016 when, in the final weeks of the campaign, he told Congress that the feds had reopened their investigation into Clinton's emails to conduct a search of Anthony Weiner's laptop. The rage is understandable: There's solid statistical evidence that the Comey announcement tipped the campaign to Trump (see Nate Silver's analysis, "The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton the Election," for the full argument.) John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, recently said on CNN that he doubted Clinton could even bring herself to read Comey's book.

Trump partisans revile Comey for the Russia investigation, for forcing the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, which has served as a tightening noose around Trump's presidency, and for Comey's scorching portrait of the President, who has dubbed Comey a liar who should be jailed.

Comey reacted to Tapper's question by noting that America's heightened polarization has made the job of the FBI director historically difficult.

"The challenge of being the FBI in today's political environment," he said, "is you're not on anybody's side. That confuses people, which I get. And it angers people, which I also get. And there's only so much you can do about it, except constantly try to show transparency. Show people your work. So that fair-minded people can make a judgment."

This idea of transparency is a major thread through Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty."

"Buried pain never gets better with age," he writes. "And by remembering and being open and truthful about our mistakes, we reduce the chance we will repeat them."

In many ways Comey, in his book and on his media tour, has indeed been transparent and self-reflective. But in the Tapper interview he once again demonstrated an enormous blind spot about his role in the election. He remains supremely confident that he did the right thing by disclosing the Clinton email investigation while hiding the Russia investigation.

As a journalist I've never bought the argument from Clinton partisans that Comey should not have revealed the reopening of the email investigation. Comey found himself in a difficult position. President Barack Obama had made statements about the investigation that were arguably inappropriate for a president. Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch, the attorney general, had had a mysterious meeting on Lynch's plane. If Comey hadn't disclosed, the information surely would have leaked.

Comey has said he thought at the time, "If I hide this from the American people, she'll be illegitimate the moment she's elected." He was right. Voters going to the polls deserved to know whether Clinton was under investigation. (If the Democrats didn't want an FBI investigation to be part of the campaign, they could have nominated someone who wasn't under FBI investigation.)

But wait: Trump associates were also under investigation at the same time, as part of the Russia probe, which began in July of 2016. It is unforgivable for Comey to argue that the principle of transparency required him to disclose an investigation affecting one candidate but not the other.

Asked about this discrepancy, Comey gave an inadequate answer.

"I think of the two investigations -- and everybody working on it in the Department of Justice and the FBI did, as well -- as quite different," he said. "Very early-stage counterintelligence investigation of Americans, not Donald Trump, a small group trying to figure out, is there any connection of those people and the Russian effort? Separate from the Russian effort, which we had important discussions about whether to publicize that."

He added that "it wouldn't be remotely appropriate" to reveal any facts about the Russia investigation. And yet, as Tapper pointed out, Comey did just that, only it occurred five months later in a public hearing before Congress.

Sure, the investigation was further along by then, but not by very much. Comey insisted to Tapper that he was pressured by members of Congress, such as Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, to reveal the Russia probe, but the same was true during the campaign, when Harry Reid, the top Democrat in the Senate, pushed Comey to disclose the existence of the Russia investigation.

In late October, Reid wrote to Comey that "you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government." Reid was mocked as a bit of a conspiracy theorist at the time. But we now know he was mostly right.

Comey should have set the record straight in 2016 -- and while he's lecturing everyone about transparency on his current media tour, he should admit he was wrong not to.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1506866

Reported Deaths: 20637
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion2056892545
Lake1006641508
Allen935801017
Hamilton72876550
St. Joseph64730759
Elkhart49383628
Vanderburgh48286528
Tippecanoe43764336
Johnson38300526
Hendricks36427460
Porter34494473
Madison29024543
Clark25868326
Vigo25633345
LaPorte23430309
Monroe23133247
Howard22089379
Delaware21603368
Hancock18686220
Bartholomew18152215
Kosciusko17921203
Warrick16933214
Wayne16230302
Floyd15876257
Grant15364298
Morgan14409231
Boone13514138
Noble11815141
Dearborn11676113
Henry11667201
Shelby11649151
Marshall11337168
Dubois11257152
Jackson10586104
Cass10269143
DeKalb10202130
Lawrence10196220
Huntington10156139
Gibson9583126
Montgomery9274143
Knox9043125
Harrison8983117
Whitley874371
Steuben8603105
Jasper8252115
Clinton818995
Miami8128133
Putnam8128100
Jefferson7849127
Wabash7827139
Ripley7180114
Adams6658102
Daviess6558129
Scott645186
White620483
Clay607175
Greene6064112
Decatur5967120
Wells5944120
Jennings591680
Fayette5786122
Posey552648
LaGrange529697
Randolph5073129
Washington503669
Owen4976100
Fountain475880
Spencer451756
Sullivan443065
Starke440586
Fulton434192
Orange429582
Jay414664
Rush410237
Perry386455
Carroll381749
Franklin377550
Vermillion358362
Pike323445
Parke322538
Tipton317375
Blackford274055
Pulaski272275
Newton233661
Brown228956
Benton219021
Crawford217532
Switzerland197814
Martin189422
Warren175922
Union170219
Ohio124016
Unassigned0739

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 2460869

Reported Deaths: 31245
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin2660682065
Cuyahoga2589843018
Hamilton1711291714
Montgomery1142371604
Summit1077801391
Lucas917461160
Butler81317942
Stark759401400
Lorain63561792
Warren51721475
Mahoning50412915
Lake47212605
Clermont45258429
Delaware40037212
Trumbull39108755
Medina38036419
Licking37943408
Fairfield34857334
Greene33267422
Portage31942360
Clark31218445
Richland29019423
Wood28563297
Allen25249395
Miami23567395
Muskingum22859245
Columbiana22539403
Wayne21740356
Tuscarawas19252427
Erie18390222
Ashtabula18260342
Marion18111232
Scioto17366207
Ross16832252
Pickaway15948178
Hancock15761228
Geauga15374223
Lawrence14350186
Belmont13767247
Union1375384
Huron13682182
Jefferson13250258
Sandusky13047199
Athens12272106
Knox11850198
Seneca11762200
Darke11111198
Ashland11022178
Washington10836168
Auglaize10540142
Crawford10172175
Shelby10101157
Brown9734140
Fulton9531150
Guernsey9423117
Highland9396148
Defiance9321135
Logan9228142
Clinton9087127
Mercer8902111
Madison8836106
Preble8265162
Williams8127135
Putnam7922135
Ottawa7809121
Champaign7782112
Jackson7582117
Perry731298
Coshocton7210136
Morrow712882
Fayette688687
Pike640586
Hardin6397128
Gallia614791
Adams6000124
Van Wert5923121
Henry586493
Hocking5718104
Wyandot491590
Carroll4909100
Holmes4814161
Paulding414664
Meigs387473
Monroe307468
Noble289351
Harrison287961
Morgan283348
Vinton247945
Unassigned08
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