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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Comey is not an honest broker

by digby

Scott Lemieux ably rebuts an article which suggests that Democrats should want to keep James Comey as head of the FBI because he's been buffeted by both sides which makes him an honest broker. Or something. It's total nonsense.

Lemieux writes:

Ah yes, the core of many such arguments: IF YOU’RE CATCHING FLAK FROM BOTH SIDES, YOU MUST BE OVER THE TARGET! The fatal problems with this defense are that 1)Comey engaged in multiple instances of utterly indefensible behavior that had disastrous consequences and 2)Republicans have absolutely nothing to complain about. Let’s summarize the reasons that Republicans criticized Comey: 
  • He did not indict Hillary Clinton over EMAILS!
  • He issued a letter two days before Election Day indicating that the investigation he had restarted into Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! very predictably did not yield any relevant new information about the trivial pseudoscandal being investigated. 
This Republican criticisms of Comey, in other words, are utterly frivolous. Comey deserves as much credit for not recommending the indictment of Clinton for her EMAILS! as he does for not recommending indicting her for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Her use of a private server was plainly not illegal, and there is no evidence whatsoever that classified materials were intentionally destroyed. There is nothing there and never was. Republican criticisms for releasing the late letter that further underscored how grossly inappropriate his earlier letter was and that may well have further hurt the Clinton campaign by allowing Trump to suggest that she got away with something are similarly absurd. This is the self-reinforcing beauty of the Clinton rules: Republicans can manufacture the fog of scandal ex nihilo, the political damage can be done, and then a Republican who refuses to act on the feverish conspiracy theory gets called a great statesman. It’s a nice racket! 
Meanwhile, let’s look at the Democratic complaints against Comey, some of which Hennessey and Wittes don’t mention:
When announcing his water-is-wet decision not to indict Hillary Clinton because she did nothing that was even remotely illegal, he engaged in highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate editorializing that played a major role in the trivial EMAILS! pseudoscandal completely dominating coverage of Clinton.
He engaged in similarly highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate editorializing about Clinton in testifying before Congress and in report the FBI issued before the debates, inflicting further completely unwarranted political damage and adding an official imprimatur to the chief Republican narrative about Clinton. 
Against the wishes of his superiors and in violation of departmental rules and norms, he issued a highly prejudicial and grossly inappropriate letter indicating that the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! was being reopened, based on having found some emails on a computer that did not belong to Hillary Clinton, emails that the FBI did not even have a warrant to search yet. With the current collective margin in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin at less than 100,000 votes it is about as clear as such a counterfactual can be that without this letter the solid winner of the popular vote would also be the president-elect. 
And is if to preemptively confirm that he had not reached a principled (if inappropriate and wrongheaded) determination that the governing rules and norms were wrong but was acting in a self-serving and partisan fashion when he sent the letter that blew up the world, he earlier refused to comment on an investigation that might be damaging to Donald Trump. In summary, where the Republican candidate was concerned, Comey followed the rules against unduly influencing elections. Where the Democratic candidate was involved, his view was “[w]ell, I know the rule is designed to make sure that our investigations don’t influence elections, but I think in this case, we should break that rule, because there’s an election, and we should influence it.” 
As Hennessey and Wittes concede, he horribly mismanaged his rogue New York bureau, and in the kindest construction of his motives compounded the mistake by appeasing them.

The second letter, discussed earlier. It came too close to the election to give us a clear sense of what effect it had, but given that every previous Comey intervention was followed by a drop in Clinton’s numbers and that Trump overachieved on election day, the Clinton campaign’s theory that is also damaged the campaign is plausible. And even it didn’t, it underscored how inappropriate the first letter was — there was never any non-trivial possibility that the Weiner laptop would reveal material information about Clinton, and there was no reason to inform Congress. 
What Democrats are complaining about, in other words, is a pattern of egregious and utterly indefensible misconduct that almost certainly had the effect of putting a unprecedentedly unfit candidate not chosen by the people in the White House. He showed himself to be an incompetent manager who made one catastrophic misjudgment after another, with the cumulative effect of quite literally undermining American democracy himself. The man should be a pariah who bears substantial responsibility for every bad thing Donald Trump does. And yet, astoundingly, Hennessey and Wittes conclude that we must not merely tolerate having this man in charge of the FBI but need him. The fact that he ignored his superiors in the service of personal and/or partisan agendas is being cited as a point in his favor. What can you even say at this point? We need him at the FBI because Bernie Kerik is unavailable?

James Comey interfered in an election and it made a material difference in the outcome! Regardless of whether it was partisan or not (and it almost certainly was --- after all, this man got his start in government as the chief counsel for the Senate Whitewater committee) it was an unprecedented, undemocratic act by someone with tremendous police power and authority.

I realize that it's just one of many shocking outrages we are dealing with in this bizarre and surreal period, but it's an important one. And frankly, I'm a little bit surprised to see so few of our usual avatars of civil liberties behave so passively about it. You can hate Hillary Clinton and be secretly thrilled that she got taken down. But it's really bad that the Director of the FBI, with all its powers, had a hand in it. Really bad.

Update: Here's where the right is on using the FBI for political purposes:

It’s time for the FBI to conduct a detailed investigation into the violence and political thuggery that continue to mar the presidential election’s aftermath. A thorough probe of the protests—to include possible ties to organizations demanding vote recounts—will give the Bureau’s integrity-challenged director, James Comey, a chance to sandblast his sullied badge.

Director Comey must also include “elector intimidation” on his post-election investigation list. Reports that members of the Electoral College are being harassed and threatened by angry, vicious (and likely Democratic Party) malcontents require Comey’s quick and systematic attention.

Michael Banerian, one of Michigan’s 16 electors, told CNN: “Obviously, this election cycle was pretty divisive. Unfortunately it’s bled over into the weeks following the election and I have been inundated with death threats, death wishes, generally angry messages trying to get me to change my vote to Hillary Clinton or another person, and unfortunately, it’s gotten a little out of control.”

A little out of control? What an understatement. Let me put it to  you straight and personal, Jim. Identifying electors and then attempting to intimidate them into switching their votes is an ipso facto effort to overturn a national election.  Which leads to a question a competent FBI Director would already have his agents asking: Is this elector threat scheme a coordinated operation?

Why, electors live in different states. A mind with a talent for the obvious would see a federal interest. Federal as in Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s the outfit you head, Mr. Comey—at least until the Obama Administration expires.

Which takes us back to the violent protests and political thuggery. Let me introduce you to two vicious Democratic Party operatives FBI agents should have quizzed and collared two months ago: Robert Creamer and The Hideous Scott Foval. These two creeps starred in Project Veritas’ video investigation of violent incitement during the political campaign.

Note this column called Creamer a political terrorist. The charge is legitimate. “Bottles and baseball bats are not Al Qaeda’s high explosives—but they incite fear and when they crack heads they cause casualties. People bleed. Street thuggery as an arm of politics is violent, criminalized politics on an ugly downward slope to much worse, the worse including lynchings and pogroms. If you don’t think street thuggery is terror then consider Kristalnacht.”

* * *

No, it’s not Kristalnacht in America, but since the election Americans have seen a lot of broken glass, witnessed beatings and suffered hours-long traffic and business disruptions within their cities. The hard left’s violent reaction to Donald Trump’s election is vile and dangerous. Peaceful protests? No, the demonstrators vandalize and destroy. They have two goals: intimidating people and sustaining the mainstream media lie that Donald Trump is dangerous.

Jill Stein. Woman’s a bit glamorous, don’t you think?

Red Guards of Austin (Texas) didn’t get a lot of national news attention, in part because mainstream media outlets have coddled and excused the demonstrators the same way they coddle and excuse violence by Black Lives Matter. Did an FBI Texas office pass you a report on the Communist street action in Austin, Director Comey?

The Texas Department of Public Safety says it arrested 6 members of a local communist group, Red Guards Austin, for assaulting pro-Trump members in Sunday’s protest. DPS troopers arrested Jarred Roark, 34, after he allegedly assaulted an individual on South Congress and 11th Street adjacent to the State Capitol… Troopers also arrested five other suspects related to the initial incident:

Taylor Tomas Chase, 21, interference with public duty and resisting arrest

Joseph Wayne George, 36, interference with public duty

Samuel Benjamin Lauber, 21, interference with public duty and resisting arrest

Jason Peterson, 24, interference with public duty and resisting arrest

Jade Tabitha Shackelford, 19, felony assault on public servant.

We have Creamer and Hideous Foval bragging about successfully organizing and coordinating violence against Trump supporters during the election. There are reports of ads soliciting professional protestors and paying them to participate in these demonstrations.

Is there a basis for these allegations?

There's more

One might assume that if he doesn't do these things it's just more proof of what a fair-minded guy he really is, amirite?

That's published in Jared Kushner's paper, btw.