We’re hearing a lot lately from a couple of former FBI officials who both claim to have held the highest moral ground in their respective public careers. Neither one of them measures up to the holier-than-thou image they try so hard to project.
First, let’s consider James Comey. As he travels around pushing his book about his time as FBI director, Comey has attacked President Trump in the most personal, virulent ways. He tells us he’s not sure whether the president is susceptible to blackmail by the Russians, and he says that dealing with Trump was like dealing with a Mafia Don who demanded loyalty at all costs.
Yet despite these supposed glaring character defects and personal vulnerabilities Comey claims he discovered in the president, he didn’t do the one thing he could have done to most effectively express his purported revulsion: He didn’t resign as head of the FBI. If he found the president such an objectionable leader, why didn’t he quit in protest?
Examples of such principled resignations abound. President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, William Ruckelshaus, resigned in protest when Nixon ordered him to fire the Watergate special prosecutor. President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, Cyrus Vance, resigned in protest when Carter decided to launch a military operation to rescue American diplomats held hostage by Iran. But while Comey declares that he found the president to be demanding Godfather-like fealty, what did he do? He clung to office to the bitter end.
Only after Trump finally fired him did Comey publicly declare all the many things he now says are so wrong with the president. And Comey’s 11th-hour epiphany comes in the context of peddling his tell-all book. This hardly makes him the profile in courage he’d like us to believe he is.
And this isn’t all that strains Comey’s credibility. When he headed the FBI, he bounced all over the place in his handling of matters relating to both Trump and Hillary Clinton. First he seemed to exonerate Clinton for her email violations; then he declared the investigation reopened just a week and a half before the 2016 election. Now, twisting the facts, he says he did it because he was sure Clinton would win and he didn’t want her election to be “delegitimized.” In both cases, Comey clearly violated the FBI’s own rules against commenting on ongoing investigations. Before he finds integrity and fitness for office lacking in Trump, he should look in a mirror.
It would reflect some other glaring discrepancies in Comey’s handling of highly sensitive information as FBI director. While he testified under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn’t leak information about either the Clinton or Trump investigation, he later admitted that he did, in fact, secretly leak such information.
And playing loose with the truth at the FBI wasn’t limited to Comey. The Justice Department’s inspector general just issued a scathing report on the apparent “lack of candor” of Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe in these same cases. He also denied to FBI investigators that he improperly leaked sensitive investigation information to the press, claiming that Comey had authorized the leaks. Comey, of course, says he didn’t, so we’re left to conclude that one or the other of them is lying.
McCabe’s mishandling of sensitive information eventually got him fired. But before he got the boot, McCabe badly mismanaged the Clinton and Trump investigations. In light of the fact that his own wife had received substantial contributions for her campaign for a Virginia State Senate seat from a very close associate of Bill and Hillary Clinton, McCabe should have recused himself from anything even remotely related to either Clinton or Trump. Instead, he not only stayed on those cases, but also allowed his apparent political biases to influence his handling of them. And when he got caught being less than truthful, he tried to shift blame.
Why does any of this matter? Because when the FBI conducts investigations, it demands the truth of those it interrogates. One of the more common charges lodged against its suspects is lying to the FBI. But if the men who ran the agency were strangers to the truth, how can it demand the truth from others? If no one can lie except those who work for the FBI, where are we?
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.