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: 926604

Reported Deaths: 15083
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1262201958
Lake626901087
Allen52772747
Hamilton43283445
St. Joseph41475584
Elkhart33129488
Vanderburgh29927439
Tippecanoe26589247
Johnson23267415
Hendricks21902340
Porter21473341
Clark17150224
Madison17065379
Vigo15815273
Monroe14298190
LaPorte14108237
Delaware13771219
Howard13635262
Kosciusko11232134
Hancock10637160
Warrick10523176
Bartholomew10341167
Floyd10200202
Wayne9690218
Grant8939196
Morgan8734158
Boone8299109
Dubois7596123
Henry7469128
Dearborn745187
Noble7294101
Marshall7237128
Cass7097117
Lawrence6862150
Shelby6457107
Jackson643981
Gibson6036106
Harrison595585
Huntington591891
Montgomery5706102
DeKalb563591
Knox537599
Miami531983
Clinton527164
Putnam525367
Whitley516251
Steuben486367
Wabash477492
Jasper471961
Jefferson461991
Ripley444175
Adams439365
Daviess4064106
Scott394963
White386257
Clay382356
Greene380189
Wells379683
Decatur379595
Fayette367176
Posey354941
Jennings346356
Washington325847
LaGrange315774
Spencer313034
Fountain309753
Randolph305487
Sullivan299447
Owen279161
Starke272761
Orange272659
Fulton268851
Jay250634
Perry247451
Carroll241127
Franklin233637
Vermillion229750
Rush228930
Parke215220
Tipton206754
Pike202538
Blackford165634
Pulaski158751
Crawford142818
Newton140742
Benton139816
Brown132646
Martin126916
Switzerland123510
Warren113416
Union93511
Ohio77211
Unassigned0468

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1342777

Reported Deaths: 21471
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1502191556
Cuyahoga1327732318
Hamilton962791318
Montgomery659161136
Summit555141045
Lucas50248862
Butler46732653
Stark40741974
Lorain31004529
Warren29609328
Mahoning26462637
Clermont25206287
Lake24339416
Delaware22014143
Licking20180241
Fairfield20139221
Greene19955268
Trumbull19500508
Medina19478286
Clark17565325
Richland15949231
Portage15851228
Wood15438208
Allen13875256
Miami13549249
Muskingum12261149
Wayne11647237
Columbiana11344239
Tuscarawas10657265
Marion10509148
Pickaway10301128
Scioto10082126
Erie9618171
Ross9209174
Lawrence8516116
Hancock8298141
Ashtabula8180185
Geauga8066155
Belmont7966184
Jefferson7324168
Huron7253127
Union717849
Washington7037119
Athens681064
Sandusky6734133
Darke6559136
Knox6475121
Seneca6237137
Ashland5808112
Auglaize580488
Shelby5654101
Mercer552190
Brown551068
Defiance5361100
Madison535170
Crawford5299114
Highland527581
Fulton520082
Clinton515980
Logan503182
Preble4902110
Putnam4778106
Guernsey454661
Williams448281
Champaign436264
Perry432152
Ottawa431184
Jackson413260
Pike378941
Morrow369150
Fayette367652
Coshocton359466
Hardin350069
Adams348069
Gallia338054
Holmes3197108
Henry318868
Van Wert307170
Hocking291669
Wyandot276158
Carroll256752
Paulding236442
Meigs205242
Monroe185049
Noble164840
Morgan159228
Harrison151940
Vinton133918
Unassigned05
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