As some of you know, I was a federal prosecutor for many years and was at Department of Justice (DOJ) during the Whitewater era. James Comey was a Whitewater special counsel.
I am appalled by the eleventh hour gamesmanship by Comey. The DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have a longstanding policy of NOT interfering in elections. It is unheard of for a federal prosecutor – let alone the FBI Director — to pull a stunt like this so close to a Presidential election. It is especially absurd where there is not a suggestion that anything is wrong – just that there is another laptop that might contain e-mails that might have issues. I do not believe that Comey is somehow above the fray of politics as some have suggested.
This is not the first time that Comey has violated DOJ or FBI policy in connection with the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. In July, he held a bizarre press conference where he announced that the FBI could not find sufficient evidence to indict Clinton in connection with the e-mails – but went on to state that Clinton and her staff “were extremely careless.” Declining to prosecute and then issuing a statement characterizing evidence in an investigation violates DOJ and FBI policy. There are strict rules that state that the DOJ and FBI may not comment on an ongoing investigation – let alone comment on a closed investigation. If the investigation is over, it’s over – there isn’t a roundabout provision for after the fact mud slinging. Comey was roundly criticized by legal scholars and former prosecutors for this stunt.
So, who is Comey? He is a University of Chicago trained attorney and until this summer was a registered Republican (during the afore-mentioned press conference he stated that he was no longer a registered Republican). He started his career at the white shoe firm Gibson Dunn before joining the Whitewater team. As we know, the Whitewater investigation did not uncover any wrongdoing on behalf of the Clintons in the financial fraud arena, but it did “unearth” the sex scandal which led to the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings. Although Hillary Clinton was cleared of any wrongdoing- lots and lots of mud was slung.
Comey then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) where he worked on the investigation into Bill Clinton’s controversial pardoning of financier Marc Rich. The investigation went nowhere but, again, lots of mud was slung.
Comey ultimately became the U.S. Attorney for the SDNY and was lead on the celebrity Martha Stewart prosecution.
In 2003, during the George W. Bush administration, he moved over to DOJ where he was second in command to Attorney General John Ashcroft and, among other things, signed off on the use of water boarding, wall slamming and other forms of torture. (See the ACLU’s website for a good summary of Comey’s role in the various torture memos. aclu.org/blog/james-comey-two-thumbs-waterboarding).
In one bright spot, as Acting Attorney General, Comey refused to sign off on Bush’s mass surveillance and wiretapping program which had been justified by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez. Comey and then FBI Director Robert Mueller threatened to resign unless changes were made to narrow the surveillance program. This incident is the one that many Democrats used to justify their support of Comey’s elevation to FBI Director.
When Gonzalez was promoted to Attorney General, it was time for to leave the government in pursuit of a more lucrative private practice. So, Comey spent five years as General Counsel and Senior Vice President for Lockheed Martin (the U.S. Department of Defense’s largest contractor) and then joined an investment management firm. He later moved over to academia (Columbia Law School) and joined the board of HSBC, one of the world’s largest banks.
Obama, in an effort to “reach across the aisle,” in 2013 nominated Comey to become head of the FBI to replace Mueller. This was a tremendous disappointment to the human rights community because of Comey’s role in the torture memos. This also gave Comey an opportunity to participate in another politically motivated Clinton investigation – this time into e-mails. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
On Friday (10.28.16), Comey sent his extraordinary letter based on an investigation grounded in a sex scandal involving Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. More mud anyone? (As an aside, what is the FBI doing handling this investigation in the first place? Isn’t this normally the purview of local authorities?).
In direct contrast, and in adherence with longstanding DOJ/FBI policy, Comey has NOT sent a letter to Congress on the FBI investigation into what role, if any, the Trump campaign may have played in the hacking of e-mail accounts of various Democrats by Russian operatives. (As another aside, Trump who has extensive business dealings in Russia, called for the Russians to hack into Clinton’s e-mail account).
In the end, I fear that by sending this letter eleven days before the election, Comey is more interested in protecting the FBI’s reputation than in protecting the integrity of our Democratic process. Rules exist for a reason.
There are those who claim that Comey is the most openly defiant FBI Director since J. Edgar Hoover – I agree. He has opposed the Obama administrations criminal justice reforms with regard to mandatory minimums, police involved shootings, and the development of an administration wide encryption policy. His press conference in July and now this “October surprise” – over the objections of his colleagues at DOJ — put him squarely in the camp of someone believes that well established rules and norms do not apply to him. Since the Watergate era reforms, the FBI Director has very little real oversight. Comey has seven more years on a ten year term.