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 9:23 AM
Updated: Apr 20, 2018 9:23 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 446380

Reported Deaths: 5995
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin927471474
Ramsey39820736
Dakota32876338
Anoka30877363
Washington20066227
Stearns17813187
St. Louis13609241
Scott1191796
Wright11570104
Olmsted1041375
Sherburne818965
Carver692436
Clay650280
Rice604168
Kandiyohi553471
Blue Earth538933
Crow Wing481374
Otter Tail454466
Chisago450832
Benton418685
Winona387246
Douglas373466
Nobles368746
Mower363329
Goodhue345358
Polk327956
McLeod324245
Morrison311144
Beltrami309447
Lyon300636
Becker284139
Itasca284043
Isanti281641
Carlton278543
Steele27229
Pine266013
Freeborn243420
Todd231630
Nicollet223836
Brown214534
Mille Lacs213646
Le Sueur208815
Cass207323
Meeker199233
Waseca188916
Wabasha16953
Martin169326
Roseau165416
Hubbard149238
Redwood139527
Renville137139
Houston135613
Dodge13384
Chippewa130932
Cottonwood126818
Fillmore12245
Wadena119616
Rock109712
Sibley10837
Aitkin107633
Watonwan10638
Faribault104616
Pennington98815
Kanabec97418
Pipestone93923
Yellow Medicine93514
Murray8785
Jackson85210
Swift83118
Pope7375
Marshall70315
Stevens6978
Clearwater68514
Lac qui Parle65716
Lake63215
Wilkin6229
Koochiching59310
Lincoln4821
Big Stone4553
Unassigned43668
Grant4298
Norman4238
Mahnomen4107
Kittson37219
Red Lake3164
Traverse2503
Lake of the Woods1901
Cook1140

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 303464

Reported Deaths: 4269
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk45396448
Linn17695274
Scott15387163
Black Hawk13659236
Woodbury12953175
Johnson1204749
Dubuque11312150
Pottawattamie8942112
Dallas882171
Story863834
Webster467571
Cerro Gordo463568
Sioux453756
Clinton448861
Warren438838
Marshall425761
Buena Vista391929
Muscatine386777
Des Moines380941
Plymouth348968
Wapello341698
Jasper320458
Lee314430
Marion302152
Jones270449
Henry263430
Carroll253434
Bremer242248
Crawford228522
Boone216417
Washington214531
Benton208844
Jackson191131
Mahaska190736
Tama185857
Dickinson184226
Delaware172336
Kossuth171343
Clay166019
Wright163024
Fayette160022
Buchanan158323
Hamilton157929
Winneshiek155119
Harrison154762
Hardin154229
Cedar151819
Clayton150748
Butler146824
Page143715
Cherokee138227
Floyd138036
Mills136016
Lyon133832
Poweshiek132424
Hancock129024
Allamakee126927
Iowa123922
Calhoun12209
Grundy120226
Jefferson119524
Madison11899
Winnebago118529
Mitchell115734
Louisa114330
Cass112641
Chickasaw110612
Sac110615
Emmet110331
Appanoose109838
Union108122
Humboldt104219
Guthrie102424
Franklin101618
Shelby101426
Unassigned9160
Palo Alto9019
Keokuk84325
Montgomery84022
Howard82819
Monroe80818
Clarke7847
Pocahontas77211
Ida74030
Davis68921
Greene6887
Adair68620
Lucas6488
Osceola6349
Monona63316
Worth5993
Taylor5919
Fremont5046
Van Buren49412
Decatur4804
Ringgold4269
Wayne41421
Audubon4118
Adams2953
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