Thursday, April 19, 2018

BTRTN: Comey, Trump, and the "I Alone Can Fix It" Syndrome

Readers who find Steve’s columns to be a reliable source for aggressively leftist rhetoric and snotty attitude are warned that today he is coming at you with a heavy dose of non-partisan disdain. It’s human nature to like the jerk who agrees with you and loathe the jerk who doesn’t… as long as you remember that they are both jerks.

“I alone can fix it.” – Donald Trump, addressing the Republican National Convention, July 21, 2016.

James Comey is an appealing figure. He fashions himself as a super-sized Andy of Mayberry, a man of natural authority and charisma who nonetheless carries himself with a certain gosh and golly hominess that signals humility and perspective. He is quick with a deft sprinkling of self-deprecating wit that creates the impression that he has his ego in check. Spoiler alert: many people who deftly use self-deprecating wit do so because they have figured out that it is superb camo for a truly massive and out-of-control ego.

Still and all, you get charmed by it. Maybe you’re a little too Manhattan to buy his whole act off the rack, and you position yourself somewhere between cynical and jaded, so you fight it… but why? Hey, my enemy’s enemy is my friend, right?  For the last two years, Donald Trump has been every lefty’s biggest enemy ever. James Comey is now Trump’s biggest enemy. So that makes James Comey our biggest friend… right?

And what a friend he has been! Man, this guy had Trump figured out from the minute he met him. Granted, those were less than ideal circumstances, as breaking the news to the President of the United States that Vladimir Putin may have a video tape of him watching Russian hookers pee on each other could not have been an easy ice-breaker. “Nice to meet you, Mr. President! Hey, um,  uh, when you were in Moscow for Miss Universe, you didn’t happen to notice that in your hotel room that there might have been, uh, … you know… a couple of… I think there were two… and they were… you know... uh...”

Somehow Comey intuited from the very first meeting that he must rigorously document his conversations with Trump, and those contemporaneous notes give Comey’s version of events the full weight of authenticity, particularly when he is pitted in a battle of “he said, he said” against the biggest liar in the history of western civilization. It was Comey blasting away in the Congressional hearings that got the obstruction of justice investigation momentum in gear. It was Comey getting fired for standing up to Trump that led to Rosenstein’s appointment of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

And now Comey has written a book which, while not conveying anything particularly new, is suddenly educating millions of Americans who hadn’t been paying attention about just how morally debased and ethically soiled the current President really is.

So when the One-and-Only James Comey Comey-Kaze Book Tour launched with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday night, lefties were settled in with their popcorn and their remotes as if this were the finale of Downton Abbey. And they didn't bother to leave their seats until Tuesday night, when Comey sat down with Stephen Colbert, the reigning king of Late Night Trump Assault and Battery. Lordy, Lordy – I hope there are tapes!!

Yes, it was immensely satisfying to hear James Comey say out loud that Donald Trump does not have the moral authority to be President of the United States. It was great to hear him say that Donald Trump does not have respect for the concepts of factual reality and truth. It is interesting to realize that an unelected former government official is the most vocal, most senior, and most forceful Republican to squarely address the fact that Donald Trump is not qualified to be President of the United States. And you have to just love the fact that in saying Donald Trump was morally unqualified to be President, Comey slipped in the over-torqued side-bar that he didn’t think the rumors of early onset dementia were accurate. Um, Stephanopoulos didn’t even ask that question. Well played, Mr. Comey, well played.

Give credit to Colbert and Stephanopoulos, who could have spent their entire interviews goading Comey into ever-more delicious soundbytes that could be used as promos for their shows or posted on Instagrams feeds that would break the internet. But both chose to go after the elephant who was very much in the room.

It was James Comey, who, on July 5, 2016, made the decision to dramatically depart from FBI policy to issue a detailed public statement about the FBI’s findings on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Comey began that briefing by noting that his statement would be an “unusual statement in at least a couple ways. First, I am going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest. Second, I have not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice or any other part of the government. They do not know what I am about to say.”

Comey would then proceed to announce that “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

The crucial point is that as a matter of policy, the FBI does not make public statements about its investigations, other than to occasionally note the recommendations it has made to the Justice Department. In this case, the policy would simply have been to announce that the investigation had been completed, and that the FBI had concluded that there were no grounds for criminal charges. Case closed. Instead, Comey – and Comey alone – made the decision to hold a press conference and publicly excoriate Clinton for being “extremely careless” with classified information.Comey, on his own initiative and in a break from all protocol, chose to grab a microphone and loudly trash a candidate for the presidency.

We are learning now that Comey decided to take this extraordinary step out of his own personal concern that the Attorney General under Barack Obama, Loretta Lynch, may have been perceived to be too close to the Clintons to render or announce a determination about the appropriateness of criminal prosecution. Comey claims that he took the highly unusual steps of calling a press conference, savagely criticizing a person who would not be charged with a crime, and not giving the Attorney General advanced notice of his actions, all for the supposed purpose of protecting the FBI and the DOF from being perceived as biased partisans.  

Let us reiterate: James Comey made these highly unusual decisions that went against long-standing FBI policy solely on his own reasoning, his own judgment, and his own criteria about what was most important. James Comey decided that rather than rely on the policies and precedents, and rather than counsel with people who should have weighed in on this decision, he alone should make the call.   

I alone can fix it.

All of this damage, however, would be a mere soup├žon of bad judgment compared to October 26, 2018, when Comey proceeded to use the same basic logic and rationale to alter the course of history.

It was James Comey who made the decision to publicly announce to the world on October 26, 2016, that the FBI had discovered a trove of Hillary Clinton’s emails on a computer seized as evidence in the investigation of Anthony Weiner, disgraced Congressman and husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. This decision, too, was highly antithetical to several aspects of long-standing FBI policy. First and foremost, the FBI is exceedingly cautious about making statements prior to elections regarding investigations that could have direct bearing on the vote. Additionally, the FBI never announces that it has simply received additional potential evidence in a case. Rather, it holds off on any public statements until its review is complete and it is ready to render on opinion.

As we now listen to Comey face off with Stephanopoulos and Colbert, we watch him splay himself in self-pity, agonizing about the brutally difficult judgment he had to make. About how if he had withheld the discovery of the new emails from the public and the information were to come out after the election, it would have diminished the public confidence in the election of Hillary Clinton and tainted the sainted non-partisan reputation of the FBI.

Comey further embellishes his justification to announce the finding by claiming that he did not think that the FBI would have had time to analyze the vast number of emails before the election. Somehow, it eluded his logic that he could have postponed his public announcement until at least giving the FBI a chance to examine the emails. Because in point of fact, the FBI did have enough time to quickly assess that the vast majority of the emails were simply redundant copies of emails that were already in their possession. The FBI was able to complete their analysis and conclude – once again – that there were no grounds for criminal charges, and to do so before election day.

Had Comey simply directed his office to start evaluating the new emails and see how much progress they could make in five days, he would have known that the new emails would not change the recommendation on criminal charges. He would have known that there was no need to make any public statement. 

By then, of course, it was too late. James Comey had lacerated the aorta of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

This man – the guy we are rooting for today on the talk show circuit – is the same man who made an unfathomably terrible error of judgment that directly resulted in the prolonged national nightmare we are experiencing with Donald Trump as our president.

Once again, James Comey had made a highly unorthodox, indeed, unprecedented decision that went against FBI norms because he felt his own opinion on such matters was more important that precedent or policy.

I alone can fix it.

It is a stunning reality that the person who single-handedly and unfairly slandered Hillary Clinton and ripped the Presidency away from her is now being lionized as the great American truth-teller, the integrity of our democracy incarnate, and perhaps the most vital witness in the upcoming battle to wrest the ill-gotten presidency away from Donald Trump.

I hear many people now saying that they’ve always felt that James Comey is a man of unquestioned integrity, honesty, and loyalty to the nation and the Constitution. All that may be true. But if you convince yourself that your own opinion is more important than any policy, precedent, or peer, then the question is whether the truth as you see it is any different from the truth as Donald Trump sees it. Or, perhaps more simply, whether you are a man of high integrity and absolutely terrible judgment.

Let some believe that he is the man of impeccable virtue who will save us all from the arrogant egomania of Donald Trump. I have a hard time forgetting the fact that he is the arrogant egomaniac who gave us all Donald Trump.

What is creepy is that they actually have something terrifying in common.

Both were placed in positions of extraordinary power, and both are granted extraordinary latitude in the wielding of that power. Both seem to believe that when push comes to shove, decades of policy, principle, and precedent governing actions can and should be tossed aside, because they both believe one thing.

I alone can fix it.

I hope you sell a lot of books, Mr. Comey. I actually do admire how you have framed the issue before the nation today as a question of whether the truth can be restored as the foundation for a functioning democracy, even as I find irony in that.

I am pleased that your book tour is probably educating many Americans who have spent the last two years watching Dwayne Johnson movies rather than reflect on the moral bankruptcy of their President.

But I have watched your trajectory from overweening confidence to brimming arrogance and now on a direct flight path to unalloyed hubris. I simply don’t like it when someone thinks that they are the person who knows what is best for everyone else. That’s not exactly the guiding principle informing the democracy for which you profess a higher loyalty.

I alone can fix it.  

I didn’t like it when Donald Trump said it, and I don’t like getting the same message from you, either.

Right now, given a choice among the bold face names in our national dialog, I am getting the sense that the person with the most right-sized ego and the clearest moral sense of what’s right and what’s fair is Stormy Daniels.

Right now, James Comey, you are just the enemy of my enemy. All I can hope is that your massive ego does not get in the way of doing that job well.

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