The American experiment couldn’t survive if every employee in the executive branch adopted
approach and asserted an authority separate and superior to the duly-elected President. Now the fired FBI director is telling the American electorate how to vote.
In a long discussion (portions of which appeared on Sunday on ABC) with former Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Comey continued to defend his 2016 decisions to abandon longstanding Justice Department policies in the investigation of
case for firing Mr. Comey last May, based largely on the Clinton email case:
The director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed attorney General
had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.
Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.
During and after the 2016 campaign, Mr. Comey’s actions were roundly criticized by experienced law enforcers across the political spectrum. In his new ABC interview the former FBI chief admits he didn’t exactly operate by the book but still won’t express remorse:
What was unusual about this, in fact unprecedented in my experience, is that I decided it was important that I speak separately from the attorney general…
What was different here is I decided, given some things that had happened, that to protect the institutions, we actually had to step away from the Department of Justice and tell the American people, “Look, here’s what we did. Here’s what we found. Here’s what we think. You can count on the fact this was done in an apolitical way. Your organization of justice acted the way you’d want it to be. And that if I’d done the normal thing, that wouldn’t have happened and the institutions would’ve been damaged.”
Of course the truth is that governing institutions are damaged when officials don’t apply rules consistently and instead opt to exercise their own discretion. As Mr. Rosenstein noted last year, “the goal of a federal criminal investigation is not to announce our thoughts at a press conference. The goal is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a federal criminal prosecution, then allow a federal prosecutor who exercises authority delegated by the Attorney General to make a prosecutorial decision, and then – if prosecution is warranted – let the judge and jury determine the facts.”
The chat with Mr. Stephanopoulos also featured an extended discussion of the flaws Mr. Comey sees in
Jonathan Turley observes in The Hill that as the former FBI chief embarks on a book tour, he is once again trashing FBI policy and protocol. Regarding the ABC appearance, Mr. Turley writes:
Comey was largely unchallenged in the interview as he claimed to be the “guardian” of the FBI. If true, it is a curious way to go about that. Comey was the most senior person investigating the president, and that investigation is ongoing. Prosecutors and former prosecutors are not supposed to discuss active investigations in public. It cannot benefit this investigation to have Comey hold forth on the underlying facts or reference disclosed and undisclosed evidence, nor is it helpful to his role as a cooperating witness. Witnesses are generally asked to avoid public comments, let alone tell-all books.
Notably, figures like John Dean and even Monica Lewinsky waited for underlying investigations and proceedings to end before cashing in or telling their stories. Not Comey. Timing is everything in a tell-all book, and telling this tale now will make him an exceedingly wealthy man. Comey has a history of acting in his own interest at such moments. When he was fired, he took memos he prepared during the investigation.
These were clearly FBI material, and four of the seven memos are viewed as classified. Comey never informed the FBI, and he gave four to a friend to leak to the press. He could have given them to investigators or to Congress, but he leaked them to control the press narrative.
Again and again, Mr. Comey essentially asks Americans to accept his violations of government policy and traditional due process on the grounds that he is devoted to our welfare and to “the values that matter.” But in this week’s interview he’s often talking about political outcomes, not law. Here’s another excerpt from ABC:
JAMES COMEY: Values matter. This president does not reflect the values of this country.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: If you are right, what is the remedy? Should Donald Trump be impeached?
JAMES COMEY: Impeachment is– is a question of law and fact and politics. And so that’ll be determined by people gather–
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re a citizen. You have a judgment.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I’ll tell you, I’ll give you a strange answer. I hope not because I think impeaching and removing Donald Trump from office would let the American people off the hook and have something happen indirectly that I believe they’re duty bound to do directly. People in this country need to stand up and go to the voting booth and vote their values.
Thank goodness a man who presumes to tell American voters they have a duty to vote against a particular political candidate no longer holds any police power.
In Other Comey News
“Charges involving Kansas, N.C. State make it clear: FBI is enforcing NCAA rules,” Washington Post, April 13
Bottom Stories of the Day
Look Out Below!
“Trillions Upon Trillions of Viruses Fall From the Sky Each Day,” New York Times, April 13
So Much for the War on Drugs
“Does the Instant Pot Actually Live Up to the Hype?,” The Wall Street Journal, April 11
Sons of Opprobrium
“Manitoba Hells Angels target businesses by posting 1-star reviews,” CBC, April 10
When Financial Planners Attack
“Parish council chairman bites out-of-control dog to defend his puppy,” Telegraph, April 10
Look What Nobody Made Me Do
“Man robbed Connecticut bank in attempt to impress his ‘crush’ Taylor Swift,” USA Today, April 11
If You Hold Caucuses, They Will Come
“Eric Garcetti, presidential long shot, journeys to Iowa, the land of dreams,” Los Angeles Times, April 15
‘Symbolic’ Response to Shootings
’“Pennsylvania school district gives teachers small baseball bats,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 11
Bye-ku to Spring Break
Wrapped in comment threads,
Hardy BOTWanans self-led
The “Rest of the Ed.”
— Myles C. Pollin
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(Carol Muller and Lisa Rossi help compile Best of the Web. Thanks to Irene DeBlasio, Michele Schiesser, Jackie Harty, Bill Chamberlin, Dave Yonkman, Stuart Creque, Tony Lima and Jack Archer.)