A tendency toward a corrupting belief

Jennifer Palmieri has an interesting take on Comey and what he did in 2016.

She’s never met him but they have mutual friends and a lot of DC overlap, since she was director of communications in the Obama administration and then in Clinton’s campaign.

I don’t harbor ill will toward him. Our mutual friends attest to his high character, and his book, A Higher Loyalty, shows him to be a thoughtful person, generous boss and a colleague who—despite being prone to bouts of self-absorption—seems able to laugh at himself. Even though he is a Republican, I have never thought that he allowed his personal political views to drive his decisions as FBI director. I also value Jim Comey’s adherence to a “higher loyalty” beyond the president to upholding the rule of law, and how he stood up to President Trump’s inappropriate pressure even when it was clear it would cost him his job.

But what Comey’s actions and book reveal is a tendency toward a corrupting belief that his “higher loyalty”—which lifted him above partisan politics—somehow bestowed upon him the right to take actions that were well beyond his role as FBI director. It’s a very dangerous attitude, and one that resulted in him taking unprecedented actions in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, with devastating consequences.

That’s interesting if true, because so much of his disagreement with Trump revolved around the role of the FBI and its director, around what is appropriate and what is not, around the distance between the political world and the law enforcement world. If he too got it wrong, for however different reasons…isn’t that ironic.

She was impressed by his standing up to Gonzales but alarmed by his advertising of it.

I respected his willingness to stand up to the White House in defense of the law and his boss. But it made me uneasy that he made sure the press knew all about his heroic stand. In my experience, officials like that have a hard time staying in his or her lane and out of the spotlight.

My unease grew in October 2015, when I watched from the campaign trail as Comey gave a speech in which he speculated that a recent rise in murder rates could be due to a “chill wind” police felt in reaction to protests and threats against them after the killing of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It was a surprising speech. The FBI Director had veered from the Bureau’s purview of investigating crime into the Department of Justice’s purview of making policy, something I found to be a troubling encroachment and one he would repeat with devastating consequences during the Clinton email investigation.

You know…I wonder if some of this is born of the tv glorification of and fascination with law enforcement. I wonder if that makes it seem just natural and right for prosecutors and district attorneys to be in the limelight giving speeches and contributing to the discourse. The Sam Waterston Effect, one might call it. Sort of an odd parallel to The Apprentice Effect.

His July 5th press conference, in which he appointed himself Hillary Clinton’s investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury, was his original sin. No FBI director had ever made such a public pronouncement at the conclusion of an investigation. Comey justifies the press conference by writing that he sought to wrap up the investigation in a way that would “persuade a majority of fair and open-minded Americans” that the investigation had been done in an honest and non-political manner.

It’s a laudatory goal. But it’s also not his job. If it is anyone’s duty to worry about the public’s reaction to an FBI investigation, it is the job of the Attorney General and his or her deputies. Ironically, Comey’s drive to appear non-political drove him head first into a political maelstrom. And once he had established the practice of publicly commenting on the Clinton case, it made his next devastating step to send the October 28 letter all the easier to justify in his own mind.

The thing about that job division though is that people don’t defend other people’s turf as passionately as they do their own. Yooman nacha. But her point I think is that that’s just too bad: you don’t get to break the rules just because you want to protect your own particular organization.

A friend of mine who is a Trump supporter told me I should call this piece “Dear Madam Director,” because a female FBI director would never have made the same decisions he did. I think there’s some truth to that. His ego clearly got in the way. Despite Comey’s claims he took the actions he did to protect the FBI’s reputation and make sure a President Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected under a cloud of suspicion, I suspect his concern was more about his own ego and protecting his own reputation from attacks from Republican members of Congress.

But even if his only motivation in taking these actions had been to explain his decisions for the good of the FBI and the new president, it was still beyond the scope of his role. I am sure it would have been frustrating for him to sit mute while partisans attacked the FBI for its decision not to pursue a case against Clinton, but it would have been the right thing to do.

What if the thought is that the attacks on the FBI would fatally weaken it just when it needed to investigate what Putin and his pals were doing?

I don’t know. I’m not an insider. I can’t be sure who has it right.

Told you it was interesting.

3 Responses to “A tendency toward a corrupting belief”