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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.

Confirmed Cases: 38569

Reported Deaths: 1511
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin12456787
Ramsey4911228
Dakota238291
Stearns237119
Anoka2241109
Nobles16696
Olmsted112915
Washington111440
Mower9522
Rice8447
Scott7344
Clay58738
Kandiyohi5731
Blue Earth4792
Wright4755
Todd4012
Carver3811
Sherburne3175
Lyon3162
Freeborn2920
Watonwan2340
Steele2311
Benton2173
St. Louis18015
Martin1695
Nicollet16912
Cottonwood1360
Goodhue1318
Winona12515
Crow Wing10612
Pine1050
Le Sueur1031
Chisago1001
Otter Tail951
McLeod920
Carlton870
Dodge870
Polk822
Chippewa791
Unassigned7837
Isanti730
Waseca680
Douglas650
Itasca6412
Murray640
Meeker611
Morrison591
Becker560
Faribault560
Jackson550
Sibley542
Pipestone522
Pennington510
Renville352
Mille Lacs342
Wabasha330
Brown312
Rock310
Beltrami300
Fillmore300
Yellow Medicine300
Houston260
Swift221
Wilkin213
Norman200
Redwood180
Cass162
Roseau160
Aitkin150
Big Stone150
Koochiching151
Wadena150
Kanabec141
Grant120
Marshall120
Lincoln100
Pope100
Mahnomen91
Clearwater80
Hubbard70
Lake60
Traverse60
Lac qui Parle40
Stevens40
Red Lake30
Kittson20
Cook10
Lake of the Woods00

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31670

Reported Deaths: 722
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk6638179
Woodbury325244
Black Hawk230158
Buena Vista171411
Johnson13148
Linn129482
Dallas128029
Marshall104919
Scott81510
Story7793
Pottawattamie73612
Wapello70830
Dubuque70222
Crawford6772
Muscatine64344
Sioux4770
Tama46529
Wright3861
Louisa36213
Jasper32517
Plymouth3225
Warren2901
Dickinson2663
Washington2439
Webster2292
Hamilton1891
Cerro Gordo1821
Boone1481
Clay1340
Clarke1322
Allamakee1314
Mahaska11617
Shelby1140
Clinton1121
Poweshiek1068
Carroll991
Pocahontas971
Bremer946
Des Moines922
Franklin900
Emmet880
Henry863
Cedar841
Taylor790
Hardin770
Monona770
Cherokee751
Floyd732
Marion700
Benton691
Guthrie664
Jefferson640
Sac640
Osceola620
Jones610
Butler572
Buchanan551
Humboldt551
Hancock540
Harrison540
Lee542
Calhoun532
Iowa530
Delaware511
Fayette510
Monroe516
Madison482
Clayton443
Lyon440
Davis411
Palo Alto410
Mitchell390
Winneshiek390
Grundy380
Mills370
Kossuth350
Howard340
Jackson320
Lucas314
Greene300
Chickasaw290
Union290
Winnebago290
Ida240
Cass230
Van Buren220
Appanoose213
Keokuk211
Page210
Worth200
Unassigned170
Adair160
Audubon161
Ringgold160
Decatur120
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