Sunday, October 30, 2016

FBI Director James Comey Channels His Inner J. Edgar Hoover

FBI Chief James Comey, possibly napping
Those who defend FBI Director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress that his bureau is investigating newly discovered emails related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while at the State Department insist that he is simply doing his job. They say Comey's just doing what he's required to do.

Actually, the very opposite is true. Releasing a breathless statement to Congress just days before a presidential election about emails linked to one of the candidates that he admits may or may not even be new or significant evidence in a closed case is a violation of ethics, decency and law.

I've been highly critical of Clinton on several fronts, from her untenable downplaying of the deep-seated problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs to some of her shady benefactors at the Clinton Foundation. 

But she was spot-on this week when she said that it's "pretty strange to put something like that out with such little information right before an election. In fact, it’s not just strange. It’s unprecedented, and it’s deeply troubling.”

Comey admitted this week that he doesn't even know what he has here. Maybe nothing at all. He said the bureau is simply reviewing this to see if there is anything worth pursuing. Good. Fine. That is his job.

But it's unconscionable for him to notify Congress less than two weeks before a presidential election about this "new" information, with no specific charges or even a clue whether there is anything to this.

It's an egregious violation of the Hatch Act, which was passed almost 80 years ago to prohibit civilian federal government employees of the executive branch from engaging in certain political activities, such as influencing elections.

Comey, who up until recently, at least, was a registered Republican, knew full well when he notified Congress that it would become an A-1 story in a heartbeat and that it would indeed influence the election. 

He also knew that many of Clinton's detractors would make immediate hay, even though to date there's no fire amid all the smoke.

This was a cynical, foolish and I believe very personal move by Comey, who's been described as self-righteous, and worse. He said recently on the record that he has gotten a lot of negative comments for exonerating Clinton. 

His apparent response to all the criticisms for his decision not to prosecute Clinton? Calling this really unfortunate, J. Edgar Hooveresque audible, which he and the country will regret for a very long time.

Hillary’s Opponents Are Having A Field Day

Naturally, Donald Trump is thanking his lucky stars for Comey's missive. Trump is of course mischaracterizing it as a bumper crop of new evidence. This just isn't the case. In fact we won't know for many weeks whether there is any "there" there.

The point is, what Comey has done is unheard of in American politics.

I’ve already stated my feelings about the emails "scandal." It’s much ado about very little. I just can’t get too worked up over it. It ain’t Watergate. It’s not disqualifying for the presidency, unlike the 25 or 30 things that disqualify her opponent.

The outrage many are expressing over the emails debacle is predictably selective. Where's the outcry over the fact that the George W. Bush administration deleted 22 million emails from private email servers? 

Several Bush staffers, including Karl Rove, reportedly used private email servers. As Newsweek recently noted, many of these deleted emails were written during the time when Bush and his staff were telling lies about weapons of mass destruction to get the public to support the Iraq War, which of course turned out to be the biggest mistake this nation has made since Vietnam. This is far more troubling than anything we have learned about Clinton and her emails.

Those Bush-era emails on private servers were also deleted during a time when multiple US attorneys were fired simply because they were not doing what Rove wanted them to do.

While many but not all of those 22 million emails were found, they’ve still not been made public. Neither President Obama nor any federal law enforcement officials have pushed to see them. I sure would like to see them, though, don’t you? 

As for punishing folks for stupidity, I don't think either Clinton or anyone at the Pentagon or elsewhere should be jailed for years for honest mistakes regarding the handling of classified material. 

Yes, laws prohibiting folks from disclosing classified documents are of course there for a reason. There should be care when handling them and punishment for mishandling them. But it's all about the intent. Stupidity and duplicity are two very, very different things.

Some Agreement On Both Sides Of The Aisle

Good folks in both political camps agree that Comey’s actions this past week are unethical at best. 

Larry Thompson, a deputy attorney general under Bush, and Jamie Gorelick, a deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, said in a joint statement that the Department of Justice for many, many years has limited disclosure of ongoing investigations, especially in a way that might be seen as influencing an election.

Thompson and Gorelick noted that, decades ago, the DOJ decided that in the 60-day period before an election, "the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps."

The obvious reasoning, they said, was that "however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process."

They added that Justice allows neither for "self-aggrandizing crusaders on high horses nor for passive bureaucrats wielding rubber stamps from the shadows. It demands both humility and responsibility. As former deputy attorneys general in the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, we are troubled by the apparent departure from these standards in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server."

They concluded that Comey "put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters. Now, he has chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions. As former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger aptly put it, 'There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.'"

CNN legal analyst Paul Callan also weighed in this weekend, calling for Comey to resign. 

"The FBI virtually never announces the commencement or termination of ongoing criminal investigations or the discovery of new evidence," he wrote. "Such inquiries are often conducted in relative secrecy, enabling a more efficient investigation."

Callan added,"Trashing the Justice and FBI rule books in the interest of 'openness' is likely to put the FBI front and center in one of the most contentious presidential races in recent US history. J. Edgar Hoover loved to influence elections, but he had the good sense to keep quiet about it."

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