Monday May 08, 2017
Now You're the Villain in Our History: Thoughts on James Comey's Recent Testimony
Fastidious to a fault.
Last week, FBI Director James Comey appeared before Congress to finally explain why, 11 days before the 2016 presidential election, based on little evidence, and with Russia/Putin/WikiLeaks raging silently all around him, he went public with the fact that the FBI was reopening its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Even if, nine days later, we found out it wasn't.
Here's how it went back then. In a separate investigation into how much of a wanker Anthony Weiner is (I think he was corresponding with an underage girl in North Carolina), the FBI seized Weiner's laptop, and found metadata evidence of thousands of Clinton's emails. Since Comey had famously, or infamously, ended the FBI's investigation into the Clinton email debaccle in July by chastising the former secretary of state with “extreme carelessness” that “any reasonable person” would not have made, this new find put a wrinkle into that closure. And Comey, fastidiuous to a fault, hates wrinkles.
I could see two doors and they were both actions. One was labeled speak, the other was labeled conceal. Because here's how I thought about it, I'm not trying to talk you into this, but I want you to know my thinking. Having repeatedly told this Congress, we are done and there's nothing there, there's no case there, to restart in a hugely significant way, potentially finding the emails that would reflect on her intent from the beginning and not speak about it would require an active concealment, in my view.
And so I stared at speak and conceal. Speak would be really bad. There's an election in 11 days. Lordy, that would be really bad. Concealing in my view would be catastrophic, not just to the FBI, but well beyond. And honestly, as between really bad and catastrophic, I said to my team we got to walk into the world of really bad. I've got to tell Congress that we're restarting this, not in some frivolous way, in a hugely significant way.
That's his rationale. He chose the lesser of two evils because that's all he had. Then he offered a challenge to the room and to the country:
Everybody who disagrees with me has to come back to October 28 with me and stare at this and tell me what you would do. Would you speak or would you conceal?
Oh! Me! Choose me!
First, I wouldn't call standing pat concealing. Comey frames his dilemma as if there had to be an action, but that's not true. He could have taken the more circumspect route by quietly continuing both the investigation into Weiner's wanker laptop (and maybe its connection to Clinton) and the considerably more problematic investigation into ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign (and its attempt to upend American democracy), without mentioning either publicly. Seriously, why go public with one and not the other? Because in Comey's mind, he'd already signed off on the Clinton one. “Concealing” would be “catastrophic” for his idea of himself.
At the same time he proudly defended that decision, he also tried to weasel out of it:
I sent the letter to Congress—by the way, people forget this, I didn't make a public announcement. I sent a private letter to the chairs and the rankings of the oversight committees.
Right. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) revealed it. Which everyone, including Comey, knew he would.
The part of Comey's testimony that isn't getting enough commentary? The fact that his investigative team assumed the Weiner laptop included the motherlode:
What they could see from the metadata was that there were thousands of Secretary Clinton's emails on that device, including what they thought might be the missing emails from her first three months as secretary of state.
“What they thought ... might be...?” Why did they think this? Did he ask them that? Why was that assumption there?
She was using a Verizon BlackBerry then and that's obviously very important, because if there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent, that's where it would be in the first three months.
“If there was evidence that she was acting with bad intent...?” OK, now why this assumption? Why were they assuming guilt before they could even look at the evidence? Based on what? Seriously, how many crimes must criminals attribute to this woman before everyone wakes up?
Anyway, there was more back-and-forth, more posturing. Ted Cruz was awful. You know how it goes.
Comey also said he felt “mildly nauseous” that he might have had “some impact” on the election. That's cute. Particularly during a week in which tens of millions of Americans might lose their health insurance.
My thoughts? Comey acted with a kind of extreme carelessness that any reasonable person would have avoided. Pulling at a loose end, he unraveled the whole thing and single-handedly changed American democracy for the worse. Knowing Russia was attempting to rig the election, he helped push the election in their direction and we wound up with a joke of a 45th president. No matter how much he tries to frame it in his favor today, that's what history will remember him for. And that's all history will remember him for.