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May 22, 2017

Comey Proved Himself Unfit to be FBI Director

What Trump did TBD.

Anonymous sources (natch) have leaked that former FBI Director James Comey wrote a memo after a meeting in February with the President quoting Trump as saying “I hope you can let this [an investigation of just-fired National Security Advisor Flynn] go”. Assuming that the leak is accurate and the memo exists, which seems likely since the sources are described as Comey’s friends and the ex-director hasn’t repudiated it, this tells us more about Comey than it does about Trump.

We don’t know if the President is accurately quoted  or not. We may never know. And, if he did say it, we don’t know without more context whether it constituted obstruction of justice.

If Comey just made this up, he is clearly not fit to be FBI Director.

But let’s assume Trump said what Comey says he said and Comey took it to be an attempt to obstruct justice. In that case Comey had a duty to report the statement immediately. But he didn’t. He just created a memo to be part of a file to be used if he ever had a dispute with the President. He got fired; out came the memo. It didn’t come out when he told Congress that the investigation hadn’t been interfered with. It came out a day or so after Comey’s former colleague and temporary replacement Andrew McCabe also testified that there had been no political interference with the probe. He must not’ve gotten the memo. That’s not a joke; shouldn’t Comey have left a copy of this memo for his successor?

J. Edgar Hoover was infamous for the files he kept on friends and enemies alike. The files arguably kept Hoover in power through the terms of six US presidents until he finally died in office. His name is on the FBI HQ; his practice of political blackmail should not be kept alive in the building.

The bipartisan hypocrisy around Comey has been incredible. Back in the Obama days, he fell out of favor with the White House for confirming that there is a “Ferguson” effect – an increase in murder rate attributable to police reluctance to police in a climate of extreme political hostility. Then Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton in the case of her email server, strangely taking on the role of a prosecutor, and he was back in favor with Democrats and out of favor with Republicans. Trump accused him of whitewash. Then he announced he was reopening the Hillary investigation because of documents found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Trump said Comey redeemed himself. Democrats excoriated him and called for his resignation. Then he quickly announced no new evidence. Trump accused him of whitewash again. In the end  Clinton accused Comey of costing her the election which, she said, she was on track to win before the grand reopening. Finally, Trump fired him and some Democrats hope that the firing and what’s in Comey’s memo file will be enough evidence for impeachment. Enough to make your head spin.

Comey and Trump can’t both be right but they can both be wrong. Comey’s unfitness for office doesn’t imply anything one way or the other about Trump. Unless the conversation was recorded, we’ll probably never know what the President actually said. None of this tells us anything about relations between the Trump campaign and Russia or, even more broadly, about Russian interference and attempted interference in our election. These are the most important issues and are what we have a special prosecutor for. Obstruction of justice is important as well; it brought Nixon down when he tried to cover up Watergate – it can also be an excuse for prosecutorial overreach. However these issues work out, the country is better off without James Comey as FBI Director.

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