Politics & Policy

James Comey Gets Pilloried from Left, Right, and Center

Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
It’s obvious he deserved to be fired. All there is to quibble about is the precise reason why.

For months, the media and President Trump’s loudest opponents convinced themselves that James Comey’s much-anticipated book was the ticking bomb that would blow up the Trump administration. Instead: No boom.

Comey hoped to guide the spotlight to his self-image as ultimate G-Man — a stalwart, sober, nonpartisan public servant whose courage and rectitude guided him through a moral, legal, and political thicket. Instead, the book reveals Comey to be a hack. A blunderer. A blowhard. He took a mighty swing at Trump and managed to punch himself in the eye.

Not only does the book offer zilch in the way of damaging new evidence against the president in the Russia matter or anything else, but its most revealing and most noticed passage pulverizes Comey’s own reputation. The former FBI director is being pilloried from left, right, and center. Perhaps even worse for him, he is being mocked as a pompous ass from left, right, and center. This is quite an achievement when you consider that it isn’t a Fire and Fury–style exposé but Comey’s own memoir that is making a fool of him.

“Donald Trump is contagious: He turned James Comey into Donald Trump” runs the headline of Karen Tumulty’s column in the Washington Post. Tumulty highlights Comey’s “pettiness, insecurity and need for affirmation,” plus an “ego” that “stays in high gear.” Fellow WaPo columnist Alexandra Petri relentlessly spoofs Comey’s gassy references to Reinhold Niebuhr and his sanctimonious self-regard: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and then, on Dec. 14, 1960, I, James Comey, was born. The initials, as Reinhold Niebuhr would tell us, are no coincidence.” The paper’s nonfiction-book critic, Carlos Lozada, compares Comey’s lack of self-awareness to Trump’s, questions Comey’s ethics, and says his “self-criticism — and self-regard — is almost comical,” scorning Comey both for lying about playing basketball for William & Mary and for ostentatiously flogging himself for the fib later. The very D.C. collision of the trifling and the sanctimonious in Comey’s personality is irresistibly funny: He’s James Comedy.

Fox News’s Chris Wallace dismissed the book as “bitchy” and full of opinions rather than bombshells. Bill Clinton pollster Mark Penn says in The Hill that the book proves Comey harbored animus to Trump “from the beginning” and “impeaches Comey’s fitness to have ever held high, nonpartisan office.” Comey admits failing to tell Trump that the salacious dossier about him at the center of the Russia probe “was a product of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee,” Penn notes.

On the woke-child site Vox, Alex Ward’s column “Why Comey Isn’t the Hero You Think He Is” castigates Comey for being too tough on Clinton, says that “Comey wasn’t exactly an exemplary leader when he was in charge of the FBI,” and rebukes his “holier-than-thou persona.” The New Republic nervously asks, “Is Comey helping?” in a column by Alex Shepard noting that “Comey’s own credibility has undergone some damage . . . it’s unclear whether the book and its accompanying media blitz have moved the needle of public opinion in his favor.” Shepard says the book shows “personal animus toward Trump” and frets that it contains “no new information.” In the New York Times, David Leonhardt says “Comey, however, decided that he knew better than everyone else. . . . He developed a series of rationales, suggesting that he really had no choice. They remain unpersuasive.” Nate Silver, Matt Yglesias, and David Axelrod roasted Comey on Twitter, Silver calling the book “A Higher Royalty” and “not particularly honorable.”

It’s the exact opposite of how you would hope and expect someone refereeing a political criminal investigation to think.

Conservative pundits joined in the mockery of Comey’s grandiosity: “He writes like an aspiring young adult novelist. His Instagram is full of jumping pics and inspirational quotes,” writes Mary Katharine Ham at The Federalist. “He keeps a very juicy diary, thinks Donald Trump is a serial liar morally unfit to be president, and believes he is the conscience of the United States of America in these troubled times.” Michael Goodwin of the New York Post said the book is “a going-out-of-business sale where all the remaining merchandise is tawdry. Most striking is that he offers no proof for his cascade of claims against both President Trump and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch.”

The takeaways from this book that will linger in the public memory are the following: Comey is a vainglorious bumbler, and he actually admitted to being driven by poll numbers when he decided to announce a reopening of the Hillary Clinton case eleven days before the 2016 election, when pertinent emails had just been discovered on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. It’s astonishing that Comey makes the admission, especially when you consider all of the layers of vetting that go into a major Washington book, but here are the words with which he torches what’s left of his own reputation:

It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.

It’s the exact opposite of how you would hope and expect someone refereeing a political criminal investigation to think. You want him to say, “Damn the politics, I had to do what was right, and what was right was transparency. The people had a right to know what was going on. Criminal investigators don’t look at polling data.”

Instead, he’s saying the people had a right to know only if Clinton’s victory seemed certain. He admits this. Times make the man, and though James Comey was in a difficult situation, his own words damn him. At a critical moment, this self-styled guardian of the public trust behaved instead like a political animal. Today it is obvious to all — left, right, and center — that he deserved to be fired. All there is to quibble about is the precise reason why.


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