Playing the Indian Card

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Comey Goey

Everybody’s talking about the firing of Jim Comey. So I guess I need to. Nobody seems interested in anything else for the moment.

The style of the firing disturbs me. It seems to have been done without class.

I think the letter of dismissal should have said something like “Director Comey did nothing wrong; his decisions were reasonable in the circumstances. But circumstances beyond his control have made him seem a partisan figure, someone who may have influenced the political process. It is essential that a law enforcement agency like the FBI, which has so much power, and requires the public trust, be seen to be clearly above politics and disinterested in political matters. For this reason, for the sake of the nation and for the sake of the agency, it is best that Mr. Comey pass the torch at this time. His service is greatly appreciated.”

Why make it into a blame game, when the action makes sense without this dirt being slung? If you feel the need to equivocate, you could replace a couple of the first few verbs with “may”: “Comey may have done nothing wrong; his decisions may have been reasonable.”

And Comey should have received the letter directly, in common courtesy, instead of seeing it on TV when he was in public.

On the other hand, there may have been reasons for this procedure of which we do not know. One thinks of the history of the FBI, and of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover, it is said, exploited his position as head of the agency to collect dirt on politicians, making him capable of blackmail at will and impossible to fire. He ran his little empire, and could do whatever he pleased.

So a danger is there.

I have seen claims—rumours, I suppose—that many people saw Comey doing something like this, becoming too powerful. After all, the Bureau was actively investigating both presidential campaigns during the last election. Collecting dirt on both sides. The pattern of Comey’s public behaviour, too, looks as though it could have been politically motivated, motivated by a desire for power rather than the professional requirements of his job.

To begin with, in July, he came out publicly to advise against prosecuting Hillary Clinton. She seems to have been genuinely guilty of felonies. So was Comey making the calculation that she was going to win the election either way, and this way she was going to owe him something? But if he prosecuted her and she still won the election, he was going to be out of a job?

Then the odd reversal in October, just before the vote. Suddenly the Clinton case was reopened. An alarming thing to happen just before an election. At the time, I thought an action this drastic could only mean they had an actual smoking gun. But they closed the investigation again with nothing new, days before the election.

The simplest explanation of that, it seems to me, is that Comey was watching the polls. At this point, and only near the end, it looked as though Trump might have a chance to win. So it was time to hedge his bets. He could expect that, if Trump won, given his big favour to Hillary, he was going to be out of a job. So it was time to muddy the waters by throwing an advantage Trump’s way, to look more bipartisan.

To cap it, last week, with Trump now in the White House, Comey seems to have testified falsely to Congress in what looks like an effort to make Huma Abedin look worse than she actually was: saying that she recklessly forwarded classified emails to her husband for printing, when it seems she only had her home computer automatically backing things up.

That looks rather as if, knowing which way the wind was blowing, Comey was trying to more aggressively ingratiate himself to Trump and the Republicans. Granted that it could have been sheer incompetence, he should have checked carefully before making such a strong charge—unless he was predisposed to do so.

If Comey is a political animal, tacking and trimming for power and position, it seems likely he was using the FBI in the same way, following the example of Hoover. It my have been important to fire him now, before he built up better dossiers, and suddenly, so that he did not have time to plant land mines before leaving. Or take them with him.

On a side note, dear Andrew Coyne has apparently become a victim to Trump Derangement Syndrome. He thinks firing Comey ought to get Trump impeached. Constitution be damned?

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