Opinion

The Reputation of the FBI Can Be Rescued; James Comey’s Cannot

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Posted: Jun 15, 2018 7:15 AM
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The Reputation of the FBI Can Be Rescued; James Comey’s Cannot

“We’ve got some work to do.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray was precisely correct in his comments following the release of the scathing Inspector General’s report with an official title of “A Review of Various Actions By the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election.”

It runs 500 pages, but the bottom line can be described in less than thirty words: An honorable FBI has been tainted by the mishandling of the Clinton investigation by former Director James Comey, and corrupted by the blatant political bias of officials working beneath him.

The report effectively destroys the image of Comey that he sought to paint in his sanctimonious, condescending book. It bolsters the various criticisms of him for taking actions based on his own whims rather than facts and the law. It finds no discernible political motive for the bizarre July 2016 news conference in which he described a long list of Hillary Clinton misdeeds, only to conclude that charges were not appropriate.

That was not his call to make, and it was just one example the IG report cites of Comey venturing outside standard procedures. He concealed the content of his observations from the Department of Justice and instructed his staff to do the same, which the report calls “extraordinary and insubordinate.”

Comey would do well to invest the proceeds wisely from the now ironically titled “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership.” His loyalty was clearly not placed at the lofty levels he advertised. But if he was not in the tank for Hillary, what was his motivation?

Partisans have instantly doubted the report’s rejection of a political purpose, but it is not hard to imagine Comey faced with strong evidence of crimes by Hillary Clinton, yet blanching at the prospect of sparking a prosecution that would have destroyed her presidential campaign. He would go down in history as the FBI director who changed an election.

That would be a daunting act, but it was his job. The “higher loyalty” of the FBI and Department of Justice is to follow, as the iconic saying goes, “wherever the evidence leads.”

Comey did not do that. Heaven knows Attorney General Loretta Lynch was not likely to do that. But even if they had aspired to their job descriptions, the Department of Justice’s own analysis might have impeded progress.

Much was made in the Summer of 2016 that Mrs. Clinton’s long list of misconduct appeared to feature negligence rather than specific intent. But can’t we find prison cells filled with people whose crimes were not intentional, but sufficiently, stunningly heedless that the law was broken?

The IG report cites prosecutor logic that absurdly blurs the line between neglect and intent, requiring “a state of mind so gross as to almost suggest deliberate intention…something that falls just short of being willful.”

In the dictionary and the real world, intent means intent and neglect means neglect. The conflation of these concepts spurred Comey to his fatuous assertion that “no reasonable prosecutor” would pursue the case, even though Clinton’s actions had been “grossly negligent.”

While Comey’s flaw may have been an insufficient spine to do what the evidence called for, no such excuse exists for the growing den of snakes among FBI officials whose distaste for Trump now stands as sad evidence of the politicization of the investigative process.

Nonetheless, Director Wray was also correct when he said Thursday that “nothing in this report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole or the FBI as an institution.” In fact, no one has made such a broad criticism. Despite ridiculous claims that his Twitter rants constitute “an attack on the rule of law,” even President Trump has never suggested that the FBI is rotten to the core or that its political hostilities are pervasive.

But they are enough to tarnish a once-gleaming image. They are enough to create doubt as to the FBI’s reliability in past probes of Hillary Clinton and the current probe of Trump/Russia collusion. The good news is that with Comey gone, Wray has a chance to make clear that partisan aggressions will no longer be tolerated at his FBI. Uncorrupted FBI agents and staff, who comprise a vast majority, should be able to usher the Bureau into a new season of redeemed standing.

But Comey is done. He may rake in a ton of cash from that silly book, or score a weekend cable show on MSNBC. But we won’t hear much more of the treacly praise of him as a gleaming example of judgment and leadership. The FBI deserves every opportunity to purge itself of its malcontents and return to its prior stature. James Comey deserves to slink away to obscurity, where he can find peace and a productive life. But his days of snowing us as a self-proclaimed pillar of law enforcement virtue are over.