The good folks at the Republican National Committee awaken and realize that perhaps former FBI agents make more compelling critics of James Comey than, say, Maxine Waters.
Yesterday afternoon brought the first excerpts of James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty, and we were expected to run around in panicked excitement at the revelation that Comey thought President Trump’s hands were “smaller than mine, but not unusually so.”
It’s fascinating how little the public discussion about Comey touches on the job he did at the FBI beyond the investigations of the two presidential candidates. Generally, Comey’s record at the bureau is praised, but it had its problems. He gave inaccurate testimony before Congress. We all witnessed the number of times the FBI had a terror suspect on a “watch list” but didn’t do anything until it was too late. The FBI employed a translator who went on to marry an ISIS terrorist. Any Comey critic could have objected to sending $1.3 million to an unspecified third party in exchange for software to hack into the phone of the San Bernardino terrorist.
But no, as far as most of our public discourse is concerned, Comey’s time at the FBI can be summed up in a handful of decisions all relating to the 2016 election: not pursuing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, announcing the brief reopening of the case shortly before the election, and various authorizations to investigate allegations of Russian meddling.
This morning, President Trump offered one of his Twitter tirades about Comey:
James Comey is a proven LEAKER & LIAR. Virtually everyone in Washington thought he should be fired for the terrible job he did-until he was, in fact, fired. He leaked CLASSIFIED information, for which he should be prosecuted. He lied to Congress under OATH. He is a weak and . . .
untruthful slime ball who was, as time has proven, a terrible Director of the FBI. His handling of the Crooked Hillary Clinton case, and the events surrounding it, will go down as one of the worst “botch jobs” of history. It was my great honor to fire James Comey!
In my article about former FBI agents growing disgruntled with Comey’s more political role since leaving the bureau, former special agent Bobby Chacon told me his first real problem with Comey was his decision to not empanel a grand jury for the Clinton investigation, a move that he contends would have somewhat insulated the bureau from political controversy by leaving the decision to indict or not indict in others’ hands. (This would have required finding a cooperative U.S. attorney or federal prosecutor.)
On paper, Chacon is right, but let’s remember that if Comey decided to convene a grand jury, that would mean headlines like “Grand Jury Investigating Hillary Clinton’s Private E-Mail Server.” We’ve seen what the Clintons do to law enforcement who investigate them with Ken Starr; the Clintons would have contended that Comey — registered Republican, formerly George W. Bush’s deputy attorney general — was an out-of-control crazed partisan and the second coming of J. Edgar Hoover’s worst traits. The Clintons had been among the most powerful people in American politics for two and a half decades, and had a slew of allies and a dominant message machine.
FBI investigators found plenty of obvious instances in which Clinton and her staff had mishandled classified information – if not outright lied to them, giving answers that strained credulity or were implausible. During the interview with the FBI, Clinton said she could “not recall” more than three dozen times. One portion of the report notes that Clinton could not remember whether or not she had received security briefings on how to handle classified info — this, despite the fact that she had previously signed official documents declaring that she had received proper briefings.
On July 5, 2016, Comey held his press conference criticizing Clinton for being “extremely careless” with classified information but insisted that she hadn’t met the criteria for criminal motive, a motive that is not required in the statute. That wasn’t a great decision, but it was an understandable one. The FBI Director left the decision of consequences in the hands of a metaphorical grand jury consisting of the American electorate.
As for his second major decision of the 2016 cycle, one of the released excerpts of Comey’s book illuminates his thinking. . . and it seems inadvertently damning:
As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: “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. But I don’t know.”
Does he realize what he’s admitting here? If the polls had been closer, Comey would not have informed Congress about new developments in the e-mail investigation as promised, because he feared it would influence the election and derail Clinton’s victory?
In a memo to the bureau after telling Congress that the Clinton investigation was reopened, Comey wrote, “Of course we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record.”
No Longer Bothering to Tally the Cost of War
I used to compare the death toll between the Iraq War and the Syrian Civil War, in part because I think it demonstrates that the Middle East and corrupt, brutal Arab regimes are capable of generating awful massacres with or without American intervention.
This morning the New York Times notes that international organizations stopped counting.
Even the United Nations, which released regular reports on the death toll during the first years of the war, gave its last estimate in 2016 — when it relied on 2014 data, in part — and said that it was virtually impossible to verify how many had died.
At that time, a United Nations official said 400,000 people had been killed.
The last comprehensive number widely accepted internationally — 470,000 dead — was issued by the Syrian Center for Policy Research in 2016. The group, which was based in Damascus until that year, was long seen as one of the most reliable local sources because it was not affiliated with the government or aligned with any opposition group. . .
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said last month that at least 511,000 people had been killed in the war since March 2011. Many organizations rely on this tally as the best current assessment.
Earlier this year, the Washington Post looked at the conflicting numbers for the Iraq War casualties and concluded, “About 400,000 deaths were probably attributable to the conflict from 2003 to 2011, about 240,000 of them a result of violence and 160,000 from war-related causes.” (The United States withdrew just about all military forces from Iraq by December 2011, but obviously more Iraqis died afterwards from conflict, particularly in the rise of ISIS.)
Washington, While Important, Is Not the Same as the United States
Matthew Continetti with a point that’s pretty darn important at this moment: Washington is chaos, but American life remains mostly orderly.
In this moment, perhaps the most valuable skill we possess is to obtain and assess the empirical evidence of our situation, to try to decipher the facts of the case, view them dispassionately and detachedly, to not lose our heads. And, if we are conservatives, to do this keeping in mind the traditions of constitutionalism and self-government that we seek to perpetuate, and the cause of human freedom we have championed for so long. We might take comfort in the fact that, despite the tumultuousness in Washington and the unconventionality of our presidential wild-child, American life does not seem appreciably different: the economy is humming, the vast majority of people go about their daily lives peaceably and civilly, the political agenda is largely in keeping with the traditions of the party in power, and the precedent of off-year elections, which have seen the last three presidents lose control of Congress at some point in their terms, looms in the background. When one turns one’s eyes away from the distortion, a more familiar picture comes into view.
ADDENDUM: This morning’s column from David Brooks praises a lot of young(ish) writers at NR. . . and a lot of the people I know.