Judging by Democrats’ reactions, you’d think James Comey had endangered classified national-security information or something.
“Apocalyptic” is the only adequate description of the Left’s reaction to Comey’s recent letter to Congress announcing new information in the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. As letters go, it was light on detail, as Democrats have been quick to point out, though it would seem to be putting one’s nongendered garment over one’s head to suggest that it is a threat not just to Clinton’s chances at the ballot box on Tuesday, but to the survival of American democracy itself.
Yet that is just what several left-leaning politicos and commentators have suggested, from Harry Reid’s insinuating that Comey’s letter may have broken the law, to Michael Tomasky’s arguing that “this is shaping up to be a Third-World election” and that perhaps the Organization of American States should intervene. Tomasky even went so far as to hint that Iran — yes, Iran — is doing more to protect its electoral integrity than we are.
In July, the same James Comey contorted himself into rhetorical pretzels to avoid recommending Hillary Clinton be prosecuted for exposing classified information, despite laying out a compelling case that she would be facing serious charges were she possessed of any surname besides the one she has. He settled on saying that while she was “extremely reckless,” her actions did not constitute “gross negligence,” a distinction that remains unclear.
Democrats were miffed that Comey had the audacity to go even that far, but, all in all, he was praised as a fine public servant. As my colleague Andy McCarthy has explained at length, Comey’s press conference was an extravagant departure from Justice Department protocol, but Democrats were more than comfortable pardoning Comey’s excesses then, since he had acted in the service of helpful ends. He just wanted to “stay out” of the election, they explained.
But now? Following another departure from DOJ protocol, Democrats are incensed about the threat Comey’s letter poses to the foundations of our key institutions, and to our democratic (or was it Democratic?) government! On the matter of whether he himself is a bitter GOP partisan or simply “appeasing [Republican] bullies” (E. J. Dionne), opinions vary. But that he’s done something shockingly irresponsible, Democrats have no doubt. When Comey went rogue in July, he was just leaving the race up to We the People. But when he went rogue in October, he “put his thumb on the scales.”
This is the type of ends-justifies-means thinking that has guided Democrats since the beginning of this process, conveniently occluding their ability to recall that this whole problem is entirely of their own making. It was Hillary Clinton who set up a private e-mail server, almost certainly to evade federal transparency laws. It was Hillary Clinton who, in violation of the law, sent dozens of classified e-mails from the unsecured private account run through that server. It was Hillary Clinton who swore under oath that she had surrendered to investigators all work-related e-mails. It was Democrats who then went and nominated the woman under FBI investigation. And it was Loretta Lynch, a Democratic attorney general, who met with Bill Clinton behind closed doors on an airport tarmac in Phoenix and compromised any possibility of her trustworthiness when it came to this investigation.
Following in John Roberts’s footsteps, Comey wrongly thought that he could make a decision that would extricate him from his predicament, when there was no such option. The obvious choice should have been to follow the law, come what may — and had he chosen to do that, he would have avoided the current predicament.
But Comey’s missteps — many and large though they have been — were the result of Democrats who, from the White House on down, conducted themselves time and time again as if they were above the law.
The fact that they were right, not the FBI director’s letter to Congress, should be the real source of concern.
— Ian Tuttle is the Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow at the National Review Institute.