Why does Comey, already under investigation, need to be lynched?

FBI Inspector General Michael Horowitz started investigating FBI Director James Comey and other FBI officials no later than January 12, 2017, in response to “requests from numerous Chairmen and Ranking Members of Congressional oversight committees, various organizations, and members of the public.” In his May 3 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Comey said he welcomed the investigation, because if he’d done something wrong, he wanted to know about it. Comey also confirmed again that the FBI was investigating the nature of the relationship between representatives of the Russian government and the Trump campaign.

In a tweet on May 8, the president apparently attempted to interfere in the latter investigation, an arguably illegal and impeachable act. President Trump tweeted at 6:46 p.m.: “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” In the first place, it is false to call the story a “total hoax” when there are so many documented Russia-Trump contacts, including most notably the man Trump first chose to be his national security advisor. More importantly, the president’s tweet seems aimed directly at James Comey, the official who could limit or shut down this complex investigation into so many of the president’s men. In a functional government, the president has no authority to interfere, directly or indirectly, in an ongoing investigation.

Later on May 8, ProPublica ran a story based on leaks calling Comey’s Senate testimony “inaccurate” as it related to Hillary Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. The story was technically accurate while creating a somewhat false impression of the false impression created by Comey’s testimony. On May 9, FBI Assistant Director Gregory Brower sent the Senate Judiciary Committee an official, clarifying letter “to supplement” Comey’s testimony and to provide “the full context of what was reviewed and found on the laptop,” ProPublica reported on this letter with a made up, false statement: “the FBI acknowledged that only a ‘small number’ of more than 49,000 ‘potentially relevant’ emails found on Weiner’s laptop had been forwarded….” ProPublica also falsely reported that the “FBI said just two of those messages contained classified information.”

The FBI letter identifies 12 email chains with classified material that had not been marked classified at the time it was sent. The letter is clearly and unambiguously written, and there is no reason to believe it was sent without Comey’s approval. ProPublica’s treatment of this story seems to illustrate the difficulty Washington has these days treating anything both factually and honestly.

Early in his 2 p.m. May 9 press briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer explained away the White House’s slow reaction to having a national security advisor who was vulnerable to blackmail and lying to colleagues this way:

Well, I think, first of all, let’s look at the timeline. Sally Yates came here on the 26th of January. Then she informed the Counsel’s Office that there were materials that were relevant to the situation. It wasn’t until about seven days later that they had access to those documents. After that time, they did what you should do; frankly, it’s an element of due process, reviewing the situation. They informed the president right away after they were informed of her giving us a head’s up. And ultimately, the president made the right decision. [emphasis added]

This explanation is based on a lie of omission, since others had warned the White House about Gen. Michael Flynn long before late January. Spicer’s “timeline” is a complex lie of distortion, since the president fired Yates on January 30 and the White House stalled before looking at the evidence, then allowing Flynn to resign on February 13. Spicer tried to lie about the president defending Flynn, but a reporter reminded him the president had called the matter a “witch hunt” and also said Flynn “should seek immunity” before agreeing to testify. Another reporter asked: “But don’t you think it’s worrisome that he was still doing that [acting as national security advisor] when he was a potential target of Russian blackmail?” Spicer stonewalled.

Near the end of the press conference that concluded at 2:48 p.m., a reporter asked: “Is the White House concerned that the FBI director apparently gave inaccurate testimony?... Does the president still have confidence — full confidence — in FBI Director James Comey?” Spicer tried to evade the question, eventually saying, “I have not asked the president since the last time we spoke about this.” That pretty much left Comey twisting slowly, slowly in the wind.

But not for long. Within hours, President Trump not only interfered with the FBI inspector general’s investigation of Director Comey, but effectively killed it by firing Comey for no specific reason. Nothing we seem to know at the moment (late on May 9) seems to explain the need to interrupt due process of law (so important for Flynn) and instead rush to lynch the subject of an independent investigation. In the context that now seems to exist, the Comey lynching appears to have been planned for some time, but then hurried into execution. Why the rush?

The White House was in such a hurry, it didn’t even notify Comey directly. The president called Congressional leaders, including Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York. According to The New York Times, “Mr. Schumer told Mr. Trump that he was making a ‘big mistake.’ Mr. Trump paused. ‘O.K.,’ he said. ‘We’ll see.’” Later the president attacked Schumer on twitter. In its haste, the White House hand delivered the firing letter to the FBI in Washington, apparently unaware that Comey was then in Los Angeles. Comey learned of his “effective immediately” firing from news reports and, at first, thought it was fake news. His first reaction was to laugh. Comey’s reaction to the letter itself is not known, but it, too, is risible in its way:



May 9, 2017

Dear Director Comey,

I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.

I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors,

Donald J. Trump

After opening with a paragraph that seems to say “The buck stops with those guys,” the president gets to the heart of the matter, at least insofar as he seems to be concerned: “I am not under investigation….” But that sentence goes on to say, “that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” from which one cogent inference is that: if you could lead the Bureau effectively, you would be investigating me. Whatever the president is actually thinking remains opaque. He offers no justification for his decision beyond unsupported claims, attributed to others.

One of those others is Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, having supposedly recused himself from everything related to the Russia-Trump connections investigation, suddenly emerges to kill it. The Sessions letter does not even hint at the way Sessions is blowing up his commitment to not act in his own self-interest in a matter where his conflict could hardly be more stark. Like the president, Sessions offers no supported argument for why Comey must go. Also like the president, Sessions kicks responsibility for the decision down the chain of command to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who at least offers some argument against Comey, albeit flawed and fundamentally dishonest. It reads like a brief written by a lawyer ordered to make a case that had neither weight nor substance, but could be a good excuse for a lynching. Besides that, Rosenstein was reaching conclusions on matters that are properly the province of the FBI’s inspector general. Rosenstein makes clear that his memo to Sessions was discussed between them in advance and that Sessions was in prior agreement with its arguments.

The memo begins with an assertion for which no evidence is offered. Rosenstein takes it as accepted fact that, over the past year, “The FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage.” That damage is unspecified.

In Rosenstein’s view, Comey’s sin is the way he handled in July 2016 of the closing of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for State Department business. This has long been a rabid Republican talking point, frequently summed up in the Trump rally campaign shout, “Lock her up.” Rosenstein is, among other things, a Republican whose own judicial appointment had been derailed by Democrats in 2007 (the seat having been in play and vacant since 2000). Rosenstein was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General on April 26, 2017, replacing Sally Yates, whom Trump fired in January. Rosenstein was then the longest-serving US attorney (2005-2017), having been confirmed unanimously by the US Senate.

Rosenstein’s indictment of Comey is viciously one-sided. It makes no effort to be balanced, even-handed, or even logical. The attack begins, referring to earlier conversations with Sessions:

As you and I have discussed, however, I cannot defend the Director's handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton's emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.

Pre-empting the inspector general’s investigation, Rosenstein concludes that Comey must be wrong because “almost everyone” thinks so. Almost everyone thought there were WMDs, almost everyone thought torture was fine and dandy, almost everyone thinks presidential assassination by drone strike and waging endless undeclared wars are matters unworthy of serious concern. This manner of reasoning is a longstanding, fundamental failure of coherent and honest thinking. It has a formal name, even: “argumentum ad populum.” Rosenstein also uses it with another logical fallacy (“argumentum ad auctoritatem”), the argument from authority, that because someone in authority says something is true, therefore it is true (see pervious list re WMDs, etc.). In other words, Rosenstein’s reasoning, like that of Sessions and the president, is thoroughly specious.

Worse, it is dishonest to its bones. Rosenstein distorts the reality of the Clinton investigation in July 2016 in multiple ways:

  • He omits any mention of Republican pressure, from Congress and elsewhere, for Comey to produce a political indictment.

  • He minimizes the role of then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who had compromised herself by meeting with Bill Clinton, and who reportedly cleared Comey’s action in advance.

  • He makes absolute, after-the-fact judgments, condemning Comey’s behavior even though it was known to the Justice Department at the time and no one chose to head him off.

  • He omits any serious consideration of the difficulty of Comey’s unprecedented situation – investigating the Democratic candidate for president – but rather suggests that what Comey should have done was essentially nothing, with all the highly-partisan political benefit that would have given Republicans.

Rosenstein deals with Comey’s October 28, 2016, announcement of the new email investigation in one sentence that refers to Comey’s explanation months later. Rosenstein has nothing to say about Comey’s promise to Congress, or about Republican pressure from within the FBI, or about the risk to the FBI if the new Clinton situation was leaked. Rosenstein again judges the situation from a “normal” perspective and not as the remarkably heated and complex political bomb it was.

The bulk of Rosenstein’s memo is devoted to quoting people who agree with him, as if that were evidence. He knows it’s not. Sessions knows it’s not. Who knows what the president knows, or if he ever knew it.

None of the parties involved in lynching Comey have had the integrity even to mention the FBI inspector general, much less to explain why their self-serving opinions should pre-empt whatever conclusions he might reach based on articulated evidence.

Based on their memos, and based on their dereliction of duty in not allowing the inspector general’s investigation to run its course, Rosenstein and Sessions, at a minimum, should be “terminated and removed from office, effectively immediately.”

Failure to do so would be, arguably, another impeachable offense.