For an Audio Version of this article click here:
He was once seen as a paragon of integrity, a non-partisan law enforcement professional who represented the best the Washington establishment had to offer. He was thought to be someone you could count on to conduct critical investigations in a fair and impartial manner.
But now, following revelations surrounding a House investigation and the firing of Andrew McCabe, the reputation of James Comey is in ruins. He is seen as the worst kind of political hack. For while elected officials and party operatives are expected to protect their political interests, those who rise to the top of America’s top law enforcement agency – and possess the awesome power that accrues to such a position – have an unequivocal expectation of political neutrality. But Comey has given up that ghost.
After a staunch and mostly headline-free career as a U.S. Attorney and corporate lawyer, and after climbing the ladder all the way to Director of the FBI in 2013, Comey buckled under intense pressure and made a spectacle of himself during the 2016 election campaign. He first infuriated the right by exceeding his authority and making a now-infamous public prosecutorial recommendation on the Hillary Clinton email scandal. He claimed that no reasonable prosecutor would indict Mrs. Clinton – after detailing several prosecutable offenses by her. Decisions on whether or not to indict had always been the purview of the Justice Department itself, not the FBI. But by that point in time, July 2016, the DOJ had been forced to essentially recuse itself in the investigation after a local TV station uncovered the airport tarmac meeting in Phoenix between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton.
Three and a half months later, less than two weeks before the election, Comey made enemies of the left by announcing the discovery of more Hillary Clinton emails that had escaped the FBI’s grasp and would now require a resumption of the investigation. It was a move that Hillary has blamed, among many others, for her shocking defeat.
His at-best clumsy handling of that investigation had begun a steep downward spiral for the former head of the FBI.
Comey was forced to deal with the reality of Donald Trump in the White House, and his relationship with the president was disastrous. The president asked if Comey might “see his way clear” to tread lightly with his investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn and asked for Comey’s loyalty – Trump saying that he always admired the loyalty of Barack Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder. Comey was entirely unreceptive to any of Trump’s advances, and began taking copious notes about his meetings with the president, reflecting his distrust of his new commander-in-chief.
Trump seemed to waffle on what to do about Comey, sending conflicting signals on whether he would stay on as FBI Director. After Comey launched an investigation into Russian interference in the election, he told Trump that he was not personally under investigation, but refused to say so publicly. Trump then decided to hand Comey his walking papers in May of 2017.
Embittered by his firing, Comey admitted shortly thereafter to a congressional committee – almost proudly and without irony – that he arranged a leak of the memo detailing his last and most disagreeable conversation with the president in an effort to get a special counsel appointed – as if this were even remotely appropriate behavior. Comey was certainly emboldened – but subsequently brought to his knees – by the fact that his wish came true. His old pal Robert Mueller was named as special counsel and has been investigating Trump from a seemingly infinite number of angles ever since – with no end in sight.
But in the category of being careful what you wish for, Mueller’s investigation has backfired bigly on Comey, who might have thought Trump and the Republicans would roll over for his provocations. But a House investigation – summarized in the Nunes Memo a few weeks ago – together with leaked emails of private conversations between high-ranking officials at DOJ and FBI – revealed naked political bias at the highest levels.
The off-hand nature of Comey’s statement to Congress about leaking the memo on his meeting with Trump made it apparent that leaking was something that came as second nature to him. Months later, Comey let his swamp genie out of the bottle once and for all when he dispensed with any remaining shred of credibility – not to mention dignity – with an unrestrained tweet that accused unspecified individuals (almost certainly Trump and his loyalists) of being “weasels and liars.”
All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.
— James Comey (@Comey) February 1, 2018
But the final nail in the Comey coffin may prove to come from the firing of Comey’s Deputy Director at the FBI, Andrew McCabe, following an investigation by the Democrat-appointed Inspector General. McCabe has reportedly said that Comey, who denied under oath that he had ever authorized leaks, was in fact on board with them – or more specifically, the lies about leaking – that got McCabe fired.
So what is left of Comey’s reputation now rests on his ability to convince a public that has long since written him off that it is McCabe, not him, who has committed perjury.
From the penthouse to the outhouse, the rise and fall of James Comey is yet another example of the disruption the 45th President has visited on the DC swamp, unmasking rampant dysfunction and corruption in the institutions Americans once trusted. The former FBI Director was admittedly put in more than one difficult position, and he’s now doing what most disgraced figures are wont to do – rushing out a book certain to position himself as a heroic figure and undoubtedly launch fresh attacks on President Trump. But it’s too little, too late. The swamp dwellers have moved on, and nothing will change the fact that Mr. Comey collapsed like a house of cards and ultimately revealed his true nature. He will now have to live with his newfound irrelevance and notoriety for the rest of his life.