Politics & Policy

All in the Comey Family

Former FBI Director James Comey departs after giving a private deposition to the House Judiciary and House Government and Oversight committees, December 7, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Baker, Page, Priestap, and Strzok are toadies who aided Comey’s efforts to turn an election and kneecap a presidency.

By his own admission, the recently fired FBI director James Comey leaked at least four memos of private presidential conversations — at least one of them containing some classified secret material — variously to his lawyers and through liaisons to the press. In both phone calls and personal meetings, Comey never gave any hint to the president he served that he intended to leave a written record of the conversations for what turned out to be his own selfish agenda.

Comey said his intent by leaking his versions of these conversations was to force a brouhaha that would in turn prompt Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel. That gambit worked to perfection when, shortly after Comey’s scripted media leaks, Robert Mueller, his predecessor, former FBI director, and longtime friend, was appointed special counsel, apparently to do what the now fired James Comey could not.

Mueller immediately put together a left-wing “dream team” of “all stars” — Clinton supporters, Clinton donors, and former attorneys of Clinton interests. As we can now conclude from his often clueless congressional testimony, Mueller himself essentially outsourced control of the investigation’s direction to Andrew Weissman, another strong Clinton partisan and Trump opponent.

Muller had been tasked with supposedly investigating any wrongdoing in the alleged Trump–Russia collaborative interference in the 2016 election and any apparent collateral “obstruction” by Trump of such an inquiry.

Left unsaid was that the Mueller-Weissman investigation would be defining “Russian collusion” and “foreign interference” in the election solely in partisan terms of allegations against Donald Trump — found almost exclusively in the fabricated “Steele dossier.”

In other words, Mueller most certainly would not be looking into any other sort of collusion between the U.S. government, foreigners, and Russia in 2016 — such as Hillary Clinton’s hiring of British national Christopher Steele, who relied on conniving Russian sources to create dirt on the campaign of Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump. Much less did the Mueller team examine Steele’s prolonged efforts to seed his wild and unproven allegations into a quite receptive Department of Justice, FBI, and CIA.

Comey’s leaks, and the subsequent outrage they incurred, did not just ensure a new independent investigation of Donald Trump, his nemesis, who had ended Comey’s long Washington career. It also had the effect of guaranteeing that Comey’s own unethical role in hiring Steele and the FBI’s leaking of his salacious findings to news outlets before the election — acts that defined real foreign interference in the 2016 campaign — would never be examined by Mueller and thus would never enter the media-crazed narratives about foreigners colluding with presidential candidates to damage their opponents.

Yet despite taking more than 22 months and costing over $30 million in costs, the Mueller team’s investigation found no collusion and no grounds for indicting Trump on obstruction of the non-crime of collusion. So, many months and millions later, Mueller ended up exempting the real Russian collusion while chasing in vain the fake collusion.

After Comey’s firing, Andrew McCabe — his loyal and trusted assistant, who had been the deputy FBI director and who was now acting director of the FBI, and who would later be cited by the inspector general for leaking secret and confidential information to the media and then later lying to federal investigators — reopened an investigation of Donald Trump. McCabe — in his apparent earnestness to take revenge for Comey’s firing and in his hatred of Trump for raising the issue of McCabe’s own past conflicts of interests due to his spouse’s relationship with Clinton-related campaign donations — resurrected the once disgraced Christopher Steele, whom the FBI had earlier fired for leaking confidential sources. McCabe, quite astoundingly, asked Steele to find more dirt on the president of the United States. Remember, Steele’s dossier, the font for the entire “collusion” hoax, would later be termed even by Comey himself as “salacious and unverified.”

McCabe apparently wanted to get even at the president who had fired Comey, and he almost immediately tasked the ubiquitous Trump-hating Peter Strzok and DOJ official Bruce Ohr (whose wife worked for Steele) with rehabilitating Steele, in a desperate effort to find some verifiable dirt on the president.

As part of these attempts to destroy Trump, McCabe, while he was acting director of the FBI, met with Rosenstein and others to discuss ways of removing Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment and winning over enough cabinet members to agree with their own pseudo-diagnoses of Trump’s alleged physical and mental incapacity.

The inspector general issued a scathing analysis of Comey’s behavior in leaking the memos. But what has apparently so far saved him from indictment was the fact that while Comey memorialized seven confidential conversations he had with Donald Trump, none were in toto marked “secret” or “top secret” at the time he leaked them. And why was that? Here, it gets interesting.

Remember that Comey had conducted these conversations under his own preplanned asymmetrical premises: The president had no idea that his own FBI director, while assuring Trump that he was not under investigation, was asking and answering questions with full knowledge that he was immediately going to write an official memo concerning everything that had just been said. Or rather, Comey memorialized the conversation from his own self-interested point of view just in case he needed to leak his versions to the press someday.

More important, neither Comey nor any of his subordinates had evaluated the classification status of his memos after he recorded and stored them — apparently on the assumption that no FBI director in his right mind would ever take such FBI property home and then leak the memos to the press or intimates. Only after his firing and after his revelations that he had leaked the memos to his lawyers and to the media did a worried FBI backtrack and for first time decide to adjudicate the classifications of all seven memos.

The team concluded that the three that Comey left in FBI hands were secret, and the four, with some minor exceptions, that he leaked were merely confidential. And who made that determination that would likely shield Comey from future prosecution? An outside body of FBI lawyers and agents from among the 35,000 FBI employees not attached to the Washington office and intimate with Comey?

Not at all.

Comey’s friend McCabe selected Comey’s friends Lisa Page and Peter Strzok (whose voluminous private amorous text messages would reveal such a venomous hatred of both Trump and his supporters that Robert Mueller would be forced to fire both from his team). Strzok, remember, was a sort of Comey henchman and FBI enforcer. He had interviewed Cheryl Mills and Huma Abedin (both given immunity for their flagrant lying), been instrumental in the FBI’s efforts to set up members of the Trump campaign, and also interviewed a surprised Michael Flynn, under the entrapment ruse of claiming that FBI agents simply sought a casual conversation, so Flynn had no need for legal counsel.

In addition to Page and Strozk, McCabe signed on Comey loyalist James Baker as an auditor. Baker was the FBI counsel most likely responsible for leaking the contents of the supposedly classified Steele dossier to David Corn, who published the dirt in Mother Jones shortly before the 2016 election. The committee de facto was headed by another Comey friend, George Preistap, known mostly for admitting under oath that he has flown to London repeatedly and apparently to consult with British intelligence sources about the Steele farces before the 2016 campaign.

In December 2017, the disgraced and fired Comey issued a rare public defense of Baker, who was essentially fired from his job as FBI counsel and reassigned for leaking to the press. Comey earlier had confided in both Baker and McCabe about his conversations and his plans to memorialize the conversations with Trump. With Baker’s help, the FBI would later determine that the leaking of these memos did not constitute felonious dissemination of secret U.S. documents.

In addition to the above, we know that Comey was influential in curtailing the FBI’s investigations of Hillary Clinton’s improper use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state.

To sum up, if James Comey had just declined to hold showy, narcissistic press conferences during the 2016 election about the Clinton email scandal and instead done his duty and examined the facts of the case in quiet, if he had resisted pressure from Attorney General Loretta Lynch to not even call the investigation an “investigation,” ignored pleas from the Trump-hating Peter Strzok to change the language of the FBI finding to preclude Clinton legal exposure, and acted with dispassionate integrity in issuing an FBI finding to the attorney general of whether Hillary Clinton either broke or did not break American law, he would never have entered the downward moral spiral that has disgraced him and the FBI itself.

If Comey’s friends McCabe and Priestap had just advised him of the impropriety of memorializing and then leaking presidential conversations, and had he taken their advice, there probably never would have been a collusion hoax in the first place — and Robert Mueller’s partisan special investigation might never have existed.

If Comey had a smidgen of integrity and had just asked whether the Steele dossier was authenticated and, when he found it was not, called off the FBI investigation and withdrawn the dossier as evidence before a FISA request to surveille Carter Page, the country would not have gone through three  years of partisan hysteria.

And if Comey’s friends and former subordinates Baker, Page, Priestap, and Strzok had not decided post facto that their boss and friend’s leaked memos were mostly categorized as secret (how much more secret can be a private one-on-one conversation with a president of the United States who does not know he is being memorialized?), then Comey would probably now be under felony indictment.

When historians look back at the series of Obama-administration officials who sought to exonerate their bosses’ wrongdoing and to destroy the campaign, transition, and presidency of Donald Trump, they will note that James Comey, both directly and indirectly, was at the center of those despicable efforts — along with his extensive Comey family of unethical FBI toadies.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.