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: 692029

Reported Deaths: 8118
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1420361857
Ramsey59138950
Dakota52802499
Anoka48675484
Washington31035311
Stearns25220241
St. Louis20709336
Scott19922146
Wright18796163
Olmsted16101111
Sherburne13732104
Carver1228652
Clay928595
Rice9218124
Blue Earth883747
Crow Wing7961102
Kandiyohi750289
Chisago725258
Otter Tail680795
Benton6577101
Mower570538
Winona561352
Goodhue557680
Douglas543684
Itasca527671
Beltrami521172
McLeod513464
Steele512821
Isanti497170
Morrison473363
Nobles453850
Becker445859
Polk439975
Freeborn434140
Lyon399854
Carlton395659
Nicollet384747
Pine379526
Mille Lacs360360
Brown354244
Cass350835
Le Sueur345930
Todd328434
Meeker311049
Waseca294725
Martin268733
Wabasha24734
Dodge24655
Hubbard238541
Roseau235924
Houston207416
Redwood204042
Renville202548
Fillmore200810
Pennington193622
Wadena189426
Faribault182825
Sibley178810
Cottonwood178524
Chippewa172739
Kanabec167029
Aitkin157338
Watonwan156711
Rock141819
Jackson135412
Pope13478
Yellow Medicine127020
Pipestone125526
Koochiching122319
Stevens121611
Swift118819
Murray116610
Marshall105818
Clearwater105418
Lake93021
Wilkin90314
Lac qui Parle87024
Mahnomen7069
Big Stone7014
Grant6958
Norman6739
Lincoln6624
Kittson53722
Unassigned50993
Red Lake4937
Traverse4325
Lake of the Woods4124
Cook2140

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 438547

Reported Deaths: 6420
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk69441683
Linn26618363
Scott23312265
Black Hawk19397338
Woodbury17483233
Johnson1698692
Dubuque14775221
Pottawattamie13369186
Dallas13048102
Story1211448
Warren707893
Webster6479103
Cerro Gordo6370105
Clinton635898
Des Moines618084
Muscatine5985109
Marshall586981
Sioux547676
Jasper532076
Lee529084
Wapello5230128
Buena Vista479442
Marion464086
Plymouth442185
Henry351341
Jones341159
Bremer331365
Washington330454
Crawford326844
Carroll326553
Benton325756
Boone318636
Mahaska282754
Dickinson276547
Kossuth257471
Clay255629
Jackson253844
Tama246073
Hardin244547
Buchanan244238
Delaware240143
Cedar228025
Fayette227945
Page225724
Wright221741
Winneshiek219237
Hamilton216752
Harrison205476
Madison199920
Clayton199758
Floyd195742
Butler191936
Poweshiek188837
Mills188225
Iowa185927
Cherokee184740
Allamakee181152
Jefferson178238
Lyon178041
Calhoun172213
Hancock170336
Winnebago170131
Cass164356
Louisa161651
Grundy161335
Appanoose158149
Shelby156539
Emmet153241
Franklin152224
Humboldt151626
Union149937
Sac147922
Mitchell146143
Guthrie142132
Chickasaw141618
Palo Alto134527
Clarke130226
Montgomery127940
Keokuk121332
Monroe118733
Howard118422
Ida109838
Davis105025
Greene103012
Pocahontas102623
Monona99034
Lucas98523
Adair97734
Worth9558
Osceola84717
Decatur76710
Fremont76511
Van Buren75221
Taylor73412
Wayne66323
Ringgold63027
Audubon60114
Adams4254
Unassigned270
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