Friday, June 15, 2018
Poor Comey was scared to death of Fox News
My Salon column today about the DOJ Inspector General report:
One of the longstanding tropes in the modern conservative movement is that the mainstream media is liberal to its core and incurably biased against them, a charge they hurl relentlessly at the press in all its permutations. This has been going on since at least the 1960s and continues to this day. It is not a sincerely held belief, at least not on the part of the professional political operatives who push this disingenuous conceit. It is a cynical tactic to pressure the media into taking a jaundiced view of their political enemies lest they be accused of being biased in their favor. And in the process they almost always end up giving the conservatives the benefit of the doubt for the same reasons. It's called "working the refs" and it's been extremely effective for them.
I have written about this phenomenon many times but it was most perfectly demonstrated in 2016 when the inanely trivial Clinton email server issue was elevated to a major scandal that consumed the campaign and served to make the overwhelming corrupt ineptitude of Donald Trump appear to be no worse. The press had already partnered with right wing operatives Peter Schweizer, and Steve Bannon on hit jobs like "Clinton Cash" and were well primed by years of character assassination from the likes of Citizen United's David Bossie, who later became Trump's deputy campaign manager. Hillary Clinton had been the Great White Whale for both the press and the Republicans for many years. The refs did not need much working.
The overheated coverage was lethal for the Clinton campaign and very likely made more than a few people feel vaguely ill with the knowledge that such trumped up scandals as Benghazi would be the norm if Clinton were elected, as was the intention all along. Indeed, on the cusp of the election November 3, the Washington Post reported this:
Chairmen of two congressional committees said in media interviews this week they believe Clinton committed impeachable offenses in setting up and using a private email server for official State Department business.
And a third senior Republican, the chairman of a House Judiciary subcommittee, told The Washington Post he is personally convinced Clinton should be impeached for influence peddling involving her family foundation. He favors further congressional investigation into that matter.
Donald Trump's rally-goers had been deliriously chanting "lock her up" for months and Trump was insistent that the election had been rigged, saying outright that he would accept the results of the election ---only if he won.
This was "working the refs" on a scale we have never seen before. And according to the Department of Justice's long awaited Inspector General's report on how the FBI handled the investigation into Clinton's email server management, it was incredibly successful. All that hectoring, threatening and accusing terrified poor FBI director James Comey so much that he threw out the normal rule book and defied his bosses so these bullies wouldn't accuse him of being biased if Clinton happened to win.
Silly Comey didn't understand how this works at all. They would never forgive him for failing to lock her up and nothing he did or said was going to help him.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report makes it clear:
Instead of referring to and being guided by longstanding Department and FBI policies and precedent, Comey conducted an ad hoc comparison of the risks and outcomes associated with each option. He described the potential consequences “concealing” the existence of the emails as “catastrophic” to the FBI and the Department, because it would subject the FBI and the Department to allegations that they had acted for political reasons to protect Hillary Clinton. Instead, Comey said he chose the option that he assessed as being just “really bad.”Horowitz notes that Comey didn't see the risk of being seen to put his thumb on the scale in favor of Trump to be much of a problem and posits this was because Comey assumed Clinton would win. But that doesn't really explain it. Comey had been "worked" into believing that he had to push the envelope on Clinton or risk being called a partisan by the Republicans --- no matter how it came out. We know this because at the very same time he did this, he had no problem "concealing" the much more serious investigation into Russian involvement in the Trump campaign.
Remember, Comey is a Republican and had been around this block before. He was counsel to Senator Alphonse D'Amato's Whitewater investigations back in the 1990s. Indeed, I suspected at the time that he may have been harboring some leftover animosity toward Clinton from his work during that era. But I've since concluded that he's much too vain and self-righteous to be a mere partisan. He simply couldn't bear being called unfair or biased so he fell for the oldest GOP dirty trick in the book: he got played.
Not that it did him any good. He was fired by Trump who fatuously declared it was because he was unfair to Clinton and then immediately admitted that it was really because of the Russia investigation. What a fool.
The report notes once more that the two indiscreet DOJ employees involved in the case and then fired from the Russia probe by Robert Mueller wrote some emails showing bias against Trump but could find no evidence that they'd misdirected the investigation to help Clinton. Indeed, the opposite was true. They had wanted to go much harder on her as did the now disgraced Andrew McCabe who was fired for leaking damaging information about Clinton to the press and lying about it. But the report confirms the finding of the original investigation into Clinton's email server scandal which was that she committed no crime.
The right wingers are screaming bloody murder, of course. Trey Gowdy, the scourge of Benghazi, is upset because the FBI didn't use the kind of hard core tactics in the server investigation they have used in the Russia probe. Evidently he's lost the ability to see the difference between an investigation into the use of private email, a practice used by previous Secretaries of State with no concerns, and a suspected conspiracy between the president of the United States and a foreign adversary. (And the fact that the right's allegedly villainous FBI lovers and Andrew McCabe wanted to use harder tactics complicates Gowdy's narrative just a bit.)
On Friday morning, Trump made his first comment on the Horowitz report, which largely consisted of self-congratulation:
But Trump's mouthpiece, Rudy Giuliani -- whose own involvement in leaks from the New York FBI office apparently remains under investigation -- had a lot to say on Fox News Thursday night, and was not nearly as restrained:
Trump's defenders are trying to push their manufactured crisis to Defcon One. This should be an interesting weekend.
digby 6/15/2018 09:00:00 AM