If you look at the war of words between former FBI Director James Comey and President Trump, you might start to wonder why they both are helping the other.
Let’s begin with Comey. He had one of the best reputations in Washington. The oversized six-foot eight-inch crime fighter was a highly respected G-man during four administrations that flipped back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Rumors abounded that at the end of his 10-year tenure as head of the FBI, the headquarters would be stripped of its controversial J. Edgar Hoover name and rededicated as the James Brien Comey, Jr. Building – a dream that was never far from Comey’s mind.
It all changed with the presidential election of 2016. Comey began to screw up. His hitherto shiny armor started to be pockmarked by ego, politics, ambition and questionable competence. His team started to look less like nonpartisan law enforcement professionals than a band of establishmentarian political operatives the type of which the nation was becoming increasingly weary.
Though a Republican, Comey’s allegiance to the Democrat left was increasingly apparent. It was, however, not predicated on philosophical belief, but rather a pragmatic belief that Hillary Clinton would be the next President of the United States and he hoped to continue to be the head of the FBI. He has proven his ability to bend to power.
Comey’s acquiescence to President Obama’s decision to not act against Russian meddling was a political calculation so as not to appear to be helping Clinton – whose election was a foregone conclusion within the upper ranks of the administration. This political calculus went beyond Obama and Comey. Former CIA chief James Clapper and former National Intelligence Director John O. Brennan, who also knew of the Russian actions, were part of the cabal of silence.
In a most ironic twist, Comey has been blamed for undermining the Clinton campaign – and in some quarters blamed for defeating her by reopening the investigation into her handling of emails. Though he quickly re-closed the investigation, some damage was done.
But that was not Comey’s intention. By his own words, Comey only re-opened the investigation so that negative implications would come out before the election and not after, when it would undermine Clinton’s legitimacy as President. It is critical to keep in mind that Comey believed that it would be more harmful to Clinton for facts to emerge after what he saw as a certain Clinton victory on Election Day.
Comey never believed that his actions would harm her prospects, much less cause her defeat. His belief was probably correct, but it did not appear that way in retrospect, especially as the Clintonites went searching for an excuse – any excuse – to explain her defeat.
The firing of Comey was well deserved, and any reading of the recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would make that obvious. Whether that letter was requested or offered up voluntarily makes no difference. The facts laid out in the letter remain valid and have been reaffirmed by Rosenstein on several occasions. He has never wavered on the justification to remove Comey for cause.
In the initial period following the firing, Comey was widely viewed as the wronged party – the victim of political attacks for investigating Russian meddling generally and criminal collusion (conspiracy) by Trump and/or his campaign.
Unfortunately for Comey the shield of righteous indignation began to peel away as he undertook actions unbecoming of a professional lawman – and arguably illegal in some cases. This is where Comey became – to use the expression – a useful idiot for Trump.
By his own admissions, Comey, a man of acclaimed integrity, courage and conviction began to morph on the public stage into a pandering, ass-kissing coward.
Today, he spins Trump’s language requesting an assurance of loyalty as some odious compact with a Mafia godfather. But when faced with what he now defines as a dangerously improper request, he offers language that is acquiescent.
When then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch told Comey to refer to the Clinton investigation as “a matter” rather than “an investigation” – bringing the language in line with the Clinton campaign rhetoric – Comey said he was bothered. So, what did he do? He changed the language. Was it because he was convinced Clinton was the next President and he wanted to stay in the good graces of the liberal Democrat establishment? We only know that Comey folded for political reasons.
He demonstrated the same lack of courage and dedication to duty when he allowed a very compromised Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe to change the wording of the final report to make the findings sound less serious.
Comey reports that at the end of a meeting, which included Vice President Pence and Attorney General Sessions, Trump asked him to stick around. After the others had left the meeting, Comey reported that Trump “hoped” that Comey could let go of the investigation of Michael Flynn. That is fudgy language, to be sure. Trump’s hope is aspirational, not a directive – even if Comey says he took it that way after the fact (the fact being the firing). One of Comey’s duties is to give the President legal advice regarding federal investigations. And again, Comey failed to meet his responsibility by informing Trump that he would have to follow the facts, and to advise the President that he should not even be expressing his thoughts in that way. Even worse, Comey gave the President an assurance; “I’ll see what I can do.”
In his testimony before Congress and in his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Comey goes to great lengths to stress the uneasiness he felt in meeting alone with Trump, and on another occasion in having dinner alone with Trump. Yet, he also stated that when he met Trump for the first time to brief him on FBI issues, he, Comey, requested that all others leave the room. Based on that initial meeting alone, Trump would have no reason to believe a private meeting between the President and the FBI Director would be inappropriate. And in fact, they are not prima facie improper.
The purpose of the private meeting that Comey requested was to inform Trump of the existence of the infamous dossier. And again, by his own testimony, Comey failed to perform his duty. The briefing was a bit too brief. Comey did not tell Trump about the most salacious details of the dossier. Nor did he inform Trump that it was funded by the Clinton campaign and produced by a foreign national with help from the Russians. Even as Comey told Trump that the FBI was not confirming the veracity of the dossier, the Director already knew that it was to play a role in securing a FISA warrant to surveil Trump supporter Carter Page.
In a later meeting, Comey told Trump he was not under investigation and that the FBI had no evidence of collusion. Comey’s refusal to make that public was one of the triggers that had Trump rampaging against what he saw as a bogus witch hunt being carried out in the court of public opinion by a hostile (fake) media narrative.
During various congressional hearings, Comey gave inaccurate information dealing with the number of emails, whether he leaks information and other matters. Comey supporters see this as human mistakes, not lies. What is disturbing is that all his “human mistakes” were beneficial to Democrat or Clinton narratives.
Comey is also accountable for the actions of his senior staff. Peter Strzok had to be removed from the Mueller team for his outrageous partisan attacks on Trump in emails he exchanged with is paramour in the FBI, Lisa Page. McCabe was fired not at the direction or through the influence of Trump, but because of an FBI Inspector General report laying out McCabe’s specific misconduct – including the charge that he leaked information to the press and “lacked candor” in answering the questions of investigators. That term is a bureaucratic euphemism meaning that he lied and possibly perjured himself.
In many ways, his book, A Higher Loyalty, and the promotional book tour brought about the collapse of Comey’s credibility. Not only did he regurgitate all his bad decisions and his bigger than life pompous ego, but he proved himself to be Trump’s match in sophomoric, petty and irrelevant insults. He spoke mockingly of Trump’s unique hairstyle, the facial complexion with white half-moons under his eyes – which he claimed were from tanning goggles – and even raised the size of his hands nonsense. The book is the product of a very bitter, vengeful, egocentric and self-righteous man. Comey’s problem is that it demonstrates it.
If there was any doubt that Comey has been playing on the team that lost the election, his noting the fact that his wife and daughters not only preferred Clinton, but they had joined the #neverTrump resistance movement that demonstrated against Trump on the first full day of his presidency. The ABC interview even featured photos of the ladies proudly protesting the new President – and that was even before Comey was fired. It is understandable why that photo never surfaced until after Comey was fired.
In a summary comment, this man who made monumental lapses in judgment said he would have done it all the same way if given a second chance. Comey’s gift to Trump is that he has brought down his own credibility. Trump’s claims of being the victim of political enemies in the top ranks of the intelligence agencies has an increased ring of credibility – especially when you see Brennan and Clapper playing out their own anti-Trump narrative on endless media appearances.
Comey has also aided Trump by diminishing his value to Mueller. Comey is one of the most important potential witnesses against Trump, but most of his testimony would be based on his statements with almost no corroborating hard evidence.
Because so many of the issues between Comey and Trump are matters of he said/he said, the impact hinges on credibility. At the onset of the political battle, Comey clearly had the credibility advantage. Up to that point, Trump lost few opportunities to impose severe damage on his own credibility. The greatest gain for Trump, however, has been Comey’s trashing of his own credibility.
So why is Trump helping Comey? This is a lot simpler. Rather than stand down and allow Comey to commit credibility suicide, or at least express opposition in a more measured and convincing manner, Trump has taken up his usual Twitter persona to engage in pugnacious rebuttals spiked with sophomoric name-calling. Trump would be better served to heed Michelle Obama’s approach when she said, “When they go low, we go high.” Trump loses some of the gains when he engages with Comey in a race to the bottom.
Comey’s public relations campaign and book selling strategy were so obnoxious that many of the ardent anti-Trumpers in the media castigated the former FBI director in the harshest terms. Rather than allowing that criticism play out, Trump tamped it down with his own petty responses – allowing them to refocus their attention on what they dislike about Trump.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in economics, public policy and politics. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, as well as the White House. He has testified as an expert witness before legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress, and lectured at major colleges and universities. An award-winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at email@example.com.