In a Beat special report, MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent and host of “The Beat,” Ari Melber breaks down why Former FBI Director James Comey’s new book doubles down on major mistakes from 2016, including his handling of the Clinton probe, why Comey clearly doesn’t get it – and is plowing into new mistakes in his comments about the Mueller probe on his new book tour.
I hand this discussion over to Charlie Pierce wherein he points out the failures of Comey to explain his catastrophic decision making in 2016:
To begin another week of fun and excitement here on the hellbound runaway train carrying our battered constitutional republic, let us gaze with wonder and awe at the single most maudlin, self-serving, and self-aggrandizing pronouncement given by a public official in my lifetime—and I covered Willard Romney when he ran for president.
I broke F.B.I. rules. I was no longer an employee so I wasn’t breaking the rules. So I took a bottle of red wine out of my suitcase that I was bringing back from California, a California pinot noir, and I drank red wine from a paper coffee cup and just looked out at the lights of the country I love so much as we flew home.
And, who knows, he may get better at explaining his hamhanded intrusions into the 2016 presidential campaign, during which he tried to be as apolitical as possible even though everything he did—and didn’t do—worked to sabotage the campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton. As much as he tap-dances, Comey can’t get around the simple fact that both campaigns were under FBI investigation, and that he went out of his way to tell the country only about the one against which the allegations were spectacularly trivial.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you think that the F.B.I. would be in better shape today, the institution you love, would be in better shape today if you had simply put out that one line statement, “We decline to prosecute”?
COMEY: I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that a million times. It’s hard– hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’m not sure that it would have. And– here’s why I say that. Because we would’ve taken a tremendous amount of criticism for being fixed. The system fixed, no detail. And I still would’ve been dragged up to Capitol Hill all that summer to justify the F.B.I.’s work. And so surely, I would’ve said something about how we did the work. And so I– I’d kinda be in the same place, except I’d be playing defense like a cornerback backpedaling. There’d be this tremendous hit the institution would take. I’d be trying to explain to people, “No, no, we did it in a good way. We did it in a good way.” And none of it, by the way, would change what I faced in late October. Even if we’d just done the one liner, we’d still have the nightmare of late October.
Mother of god, I read this passage several times and, every time I read it, I read as Comey’s explaining that he should be forgiven for screwing the pooch in July, when he gilded his announcement that HRC would not be prosecuted for aggravated email abuse with the phrase, “extremely careless,” because he wound up giving the pooch a serious screwing in October, right before the election. And it’s that second screwing of the pooch that Comey can’t talk his way past, unless you’ve had about 23 coffee cups full of a fine California pinot noir, that is. [..]
He told Stephanopoulos that, almost at the same time he was told about the contents of Weiner’s laptop, he also was told in detail what the national intelligence community knew about the ongoing Russian ratcking of the presidential election. In short, he knew that both campaigns were being investigated, and that one of those investigations was considered by his colleagues to be far more serious than the other. His answer is, quite literally, unbelievable.
COMEY: Yeah– I think it was in August, I volunteered that– that I would be– I remember saying that I’m a little bit tired of being the independent voice on things, after the beating I’d taken after the July 5th announcement. But I said in a meeting with the president, “I’m willing to be the voice on this and help inoculate the American people. But I also recognize why this is such a hard question, because if you announce that the Russians are trying to mess with our election, do you accomplish their goal for them? Do you undermine confidence in our election by having the president of the United States, or one of his senior people, say this publicly? Will the Russians be happy that you did that?” And so I– I wrote an op-ed, was going to go in a major newspaper that laid out what was going on. Not the investigation, ’cause that was too sensitive to reveal, but that, “The Russians are here and they’re screwing with us. And this is consistent with what they’ve done in the past,” and they never took me up on it. The Obama administration deliberated until the beginning of October.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Eventually the– administration does announce– that they’ve found that Russia is interfering– yet, and this is– this confounds me. I– I’m– I’m puzzled by this. Yet, when they decide to come out with a joint statement of the intelligence committees, you as the FBI director refused to sign it. Why?
JAMES COMEY: Because of the way we approach action in the run-up to an election. The– it’s not written down, despite what you might have heard, but there’s an important norm that I’ve lived my whole government career– obeying. If you can avoid it, you should not take any action in the run-up to an election that could have an impact on the election. By that, I mean the FBI or the Department of Justice. And so, we were being asked, in October, to sign onto a statement that says, “The Russians are messing with our election.” In my view and the view of the FBI leadership was it’s too late. And we can avoid action here. Because the goal’s already been accomplished. The American people already know this because lots of government officials have been on background talking to the press about this, members of Congress have been talking about it, the candidates are talking about it. So, the inoculation has already been achieved, and it’s October. So, we can avoid action here consistent with our policy that, whenever possible, we try and avoid action. So, we won’t sign this.
Yet, he writes a letter to a committee headed by then-Congressman Jason Chaffetz, a partisan viper of the first order, saying that he has reopened the Clinton email investigation. Because Comey is not a four-year-old playing with his toes in the mud, he has to know that this letter is going to get leaked about eight seconds after it arrives in Chaffetz’s hot little hands. But he won’t sign onto an intelligence committee report about Russian ratfcking because it might involve the FBI in something that “the American people are already talking about” and because it might be seen as tampering with the election? Please to be pulling the other one now.
How did we get here? How did we get to the point in this country that we have to depend even slightly on the likes of James Comey to help pull the republic out of the ditch? [..]
History’s judgment on Comey is going to be harsh, but history can wait for the moment. There are more important things to do right now. We should not let ourselves off the hook in other ways, however, and the most important of these is how we let our politics drift so far out of our control that they became vulnerable to the whims and calculations of people like James Comey, International Man of Integritude—and other, far worse people besides.
Comey is not a victim. Obama should have fired him after the July 5th fiasco. He didn’t. Trump did and for the wrong reason.