Threading the Needle Badly

Like many, if by no means all, Americans on June 8, I watched the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee on live television. My perception was that Comey’s testimony was deliberately crafted to be self-serving and to deflect criticism from himself to his former boss, President Donald Trump. It also was my perception that, in trying to thread the needle of truth, he did it clumsily. In the end, he indicted himself at least as much as he indicted the President.

Comey has a disarming “gee-whiz” way about him that causes him to come across as a good guy – a characteristic of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn that he and Trump, according to Comey’s testimony, agreed on – and his reputation has been one of a straight shooter. I can’t say much of his previous service, but that reputation has to be called into question after his actions and public statements during the past year, the June 8 testimony not dispelling those questions. It’s been said Comey is not a political animal, but it is hard not to see so much of what he’s done and said in the past months as anything other than political. Ironically, Comey has garnered criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, was fired by Trump and lambasted by Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and yet his apparent leanings toward the Dems are hard (to be generous) to ignore. Harder to ignore is his apparently muddled approach to things that demand clarity, not confusion.

That is all back story to yesterday’s testimony. Watching it unfold, I heard a lot of statements that either seemed to not say a great deal or which could be read, alternatively, as exonerating the President of wrong-doing, or not exonerating him, depending on one’s view and predisposition. But the general tedium came crashing down, along – literally – with my jaw when Comey related how he had written a supposedly “private” memo about a meeting with the President in the Oval Office, which he subsequently provided to a “friend” with the expectation this friend would leak the memo to the media. I could hardly believe that an FBI director would do such a thing, and that he would publicly admit, apparently with some pride, to having done it was even more shocking.

There are times recently, just listening to Comey, I have had to wonder whether he was, in the vernacular, “losing it.” Some of his statements have sounded borderline deranged, or at least very much like whinging. But when he made this statement before the Senate committee, I was absolutely flabbergasted. Perhaps he saw himself as playing up to what he perceives as his audience in the media, but in the process he was admitting to the very real possibility that he had violated federal law. Comey also, as was pointed out by legal expert Jonathan Turley earlier today, seriously undermined his credibility as a potential witness in the unlikely event that any criminal charges eventually are leveled against the President.

This onion is so big it’s hard to determine where to start peeling it. For argument’s sake, had Comey felt the President was in fact trying to influence the outcome or direction or even conduct of an FBI investigation, he had an affirmative obligation under 18 U.S. Code Section 4 to report it. Not to a friend, not to a professor at Columbia University (that’s who this friend is), not to the New York Times, but to the Justice Department. Failure to do is arguably a crime. Surely the head of the FBI should know this. Surely he should know that, even if it doesn’t rise to the level of a crime, it represents an astounding lapse of judgment, a lapse further aggravated by going public with it under oath. Apparently Comey didn’t, and still doesn’t.

The next layer of this onion concerns how Comey went about this. Again under oath, he admitted to using a government laptop in a government vehicle to write a private memo, with the intent of leaking it, of an official meeting with the President. Comey insisted the memo contained no classified information, and that may well be true, but that is a peripheral issue. What Comey did as FBI director was in his official capacity as a U.S. Government employee – a rather highly placed one, one might add – and his notes and memos didn’t belong to him. They are the property of the U.S. Government and, by extension, of the American people. Whether these acts would qualify for prosecution is irrelevant. They were clearly improper and ill-advised, and they reflect more than poorly on someone in Comey’s position. Perhaps Comey was afraid of getting fired if he reported his suspicions about Trump through proper channels, but that is a flimsy excuse and indefensible. If the President was violating the law, that pales in comparison to fears for one’s job. What kind of personal cowardice was Comey acting from?

It’s little wonder that Comey, on March 20, said the FBI wouldn’t be going after government leaks to the media. No crime, no problem, as the old adage goes, but also perhaps another indication of Comey covering his own ass. It’s also little wonder that Comey, initially, declined to testify before the Senate committee and, after yesterday’s performance, maybe he shouldn’t have.

While most in the so-called mainstream media have been quick to jump on Comey’s testimony as damning of Trump, it was at least as damning of Comey. In fact, it was Comey himself who testified that he told Trump at least three times that he was not the subject of an FBI investigation. Yet, in the same session, Comey admitted that he agreed with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch to categorize the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s misuse of her official emails as “a matter” rather than as “an investigation.” While Comey said it made him “queasy” (as if we should care), he agreed to the request. Comey also made no official recommendation after Mr. Hillary “Bill” Clinton met with AG Lynch for half an hour in an aircraft on the tarmac in Phoenix while the FBI was looking into his wife’s actions. Obstruction of justice? Any more so than Trump saying he “hoped” the FBI would conclude its investigation of his campaign? Today Lynch is pushing back against Comey’s allegation, so we can assume it hit some nerve, perhaps a legal one, in the former AG.

Now let’s get real about all this. It really doesn’t matter whether Comey, or Trump, or Lynch, or either of the Clintons broke the law. It all comes down to politics, and the separate legal system that exists for people like that than for the rest of us. I am a former Foreign Service Officer and former intel analyst, and I have said all along that, had I done what Hillary Clinton did with her emails and email servers, I would be in prison. I have no doubt of that and, were I not prosecuted and imprisoned for such misdeeds as Hillary Clinton committed, there would be something radically wrong with the system. Well, guess what? There is something radically wrong with the system.

It was Comey who should be held personally responsible for putting his finger on the scale and letting Hillary off the hook. Even by his own extended public statement – itself unprecedented – last July, Clinton met every requirement for committing a felony offense under Section 793(f) of Title 18 of the federal penal code. Even with the most cursory look at what Hillary did, and the disregard with which she held either the law or the security of the American people, it would be obvious how she violated both the law and the high trust that was placed in her. And Comey made note of that. But then it was Comey who went on to invent a new legal concept (“intent,” something the actual statute does not require when gross negligence is involved, as it was) to let Clinton off the hook. He proceeded to extrapolate that made-up concept to postulate there were not sufficient grounds to mount a prosecution of then-candidate Clinton. Those of us who signed those agreements concerning handling of classified material at the State Dept. knew that was bogus, and the interests of the American people, ostensibly the basis for the statute, were tossed out to protect one privileged person.

I have to almost choke on the hypocrisy of those making such a big deal about possible Russian meddling in the U.S. election, something Comey dwelled on in his testimony before the Senate committee. If one ignores the fact that the Russians, and the Soviets before them, have always tried to meddle in our affairs, if one ignores the fact that the U.S. is guilty of far more meddling in other countries’ affairs – even to the point of overthrowing other countries’ governments – and if one ignores the more recent fact that the Obama Administration actively paid for and sent campaign advisers to Israel to work (unsuccessfully) against the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – all inconvenient facts studiously ignored by the mainstream media – there is little doubt that Hillary Clinton’s wanton negligence in handling highly classified information almost certainly did far more to jeopardize the security of the country than anything the Russians might have done during the campaign.

In fact, Hillary goes a long way toward proving the old adage that no good turn goes unpunished. While Comey single-handedly prevented her prosecution, that hasn’t stopped her from accusing Comey of tipping the scales leading to her defeat. She asks us to ignore the utterly crappy campaign she conducted, in her “blame-everyone-but-myself” crusade, while attacking Comey. While it’s sometimes true that being hated by both sides is an indication you’re doing something right, it can also indicate you’re going about things very wrongly. I would argue the latter applies in Comey’s case. Worse, I would argue that Comey was derelict in his duties as FBI director to pursue the law and justice and not involve himself in any extraneous issues.

Anyway, if anyone was expecting Comey to bring clarity to the current imbroglio engulfing Washington and on which the “all-Trump-all-the-time” media is fixated, they must surely be disappointed. We’re just at the beginning of this road, and Comey’s muddled testimony only confirmed and, if anything, assured that. Meanwhile, don’t count on anyone of note being brought to justice, and don’t count on much being done to fix the many things that need fixing in this country, now that Congress has yet another excuse to dither and delay.

 

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