Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Resign, Mr. Comey

The FBI director lends credence to Trump’s accusation that the system is rigged.


By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
November 1, 2016

There was once an honorable tradition of resignations from government service. Cy Vance stepped down as Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of State after each man lost confidence in the other’s judgment. George Tenet resigned as George W. Bush’s CIA director in the wake of the Iraq WMD intelligence debacle.

Now it behooves James Comey to do the same. The FBI director lost the confidence of millions of Americans last summer by using semantic sophistry and bureaucratic legerdemain to exonerate Hillary Clinton from charges of mishandling classified information. He lost the confidence of millions more last Friday with his blundering letter to Congress announcing that the Clinton email investigation might not be closed after all—details to come, maybe.

In the most divisive political season in memory, Mr. Comey has become the rare object of political consensus, his motives distrusted by Trump and Clinton voters alike, his judgment doubted by congressional Republicans, Democratic Justice Department officials and probably a great many agents in his own bureau. He needs to go.

This isn’t because Mr. Comey is a secret partisan—an “arm of the [Clinton] campaign,” as journalist Mark Halperin suggested in September. In July Mr. Comey, an Obama appointee who also served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, testified that he had been a registered Republican “for most of my adult life,” but that he was “not registered any longer.”

Whatever that means. Mr. Comey’s gnomic, ex cathedra distinction between Mrs. Clinton’s “extremely careless” handling of classified information and the “grossly negligent” standard that would have put her in legal jeopardy probably saved her candidacy. Friday’s letter to Congress, raising “there’s-gotta-be-something-there” suspicions, may yet save Mr. Trump’s.

These aren’t partisan acts. They are self-regarding ones. Mr. Comey is a familiar Washington type—the putative saint—whose career is a study in reputation management. He went after investment banker Frank Quattrone. He threatened to resign from the Bush administration over its warrant-less wiretap program. He vouchsafed the case against Steven J. Hatfill, the virologist accused of the 2001 anthrax mail attacks, in internal White House deliberations. He appointed his close friend Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate the leak of CIA analyst Valerie Plame’s name.

One common thread in these cases is that Mr. Comey was always on the right side of Beltway conventional wisdom. The second is that he was consistently on the wrong side of justice.

Mr. Quattrone was exonerated. Warrant-less wiretaps were ruled constitutional by the FISA court. Mr. Hatfill was an innocent man who eventually won a $5.8 million settlement from the Justice Department. Mr. Fitzgerald oversaw a three-year witch hunt that conveniently overlooked Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage’s role in leaking Ms. Plame’s identity. Instead, New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail for protecting her sources and Scooter Libby had his career wrecked.

The Journal brought this record to light in a blistering 2013 editorial. “Any potential FBI director deserves scrutiny, since the position has so much power and is susceptible to ruinous misjudgments and abuse,” the editorial warned. “That goes double for Mr. Comey, a nominee who seems to think the job of the federal bureaucracy is to oversee elected officials, not the other way around.”

The Senate ignored our advice. Mr. Comey was confirmed 93-1.

It’s amusing to read liberal pundits suddenly denounce Mr. Comey as a self-serving operator, not the man of honor he was supposed to be when his behavior was more congenial to Democrats.

It’s also amusing to conjecture that Mr. Comey’s hand in sending Friday’s letter to Congress was forced by fear that disgruntled FBI agents would leak the news of the emails. Mr. Comey used just that kind of tactic when he threatened to resign from the Bush administration.

What’s not amusing is that Mr. Comey has lent credence to Donald Trump’s toxic accusation that the system is rigged. In July, the FBI director arrogated to himself the right to decide whether a “reasonable prosecutor” would bring Mrs. Clinton’s case to trial, a decision that belonged to the Justice Department. Now he has flouted Justice Department protocols against using “official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election.” All to protect his position and reputation.

FBI directors are supposed to be above politics, not in them. President Obama has the authority to fire Mr. Comey but will be hard-pressed to do so politically. That goes double if Mrs. Clinton is elected. Who knows what a President Trump would do.

All the more reason for Mr. Comey to do the right thing. He has lost the trust of his political masters, his congressional overseers and the American people. Wanting to spend more time with family is the usual excuse.


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