Comey’s firing was inevitable, but don’t blame Trump
© Greg Nash

I heard an interesting piece on NPR recently, about “post-truth” news: In a nutshell, it’s no longer how empirically convincing an article or narrative may be to an audience that counts, but how powerfully the account “reverberates emotionally” and corresponds to the beliefs and values already held by specific, “niche” audiences.

We’re not talking about lies — no, just the break-through insight that different audiences accept only the claims that slide powerful emotional bolts into cherished ideological receptors.

This is why the firing of James Comey was inevitable.

Comey was sworn in as director of the FBI in September 2013. In July 2015, “government investigators” announced they had evidence then-Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonProminent Putin critic: If Trump turns me over, I'm dead Dems unveil slate of measures to ratchet up pressure on Russia Trump tweets old video of Clinton talking up 'a strong Russia' MORE was doing top-secret business via a private email service — in other words, transmitting classified information over an unsecured and eminently hackable commercial server. 

This information made it to Comey, a man whose goals are simple: first, to do the “right thing,” morally and legally, and second, to keep his job, in a Department of Justice in which his boss, the attorney general, is so tightly wired into the Obama administration’s political priorities that no criminal insinuation about Clinton would ever make it to a grand jury.

ADVERTISEMENT
The FBI chief, between the proverbial rock and hard place, kept on keepin’ on until in June of 2016, when then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch just happened to bump into Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonDem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Don't place all your hopes — or fears — on a new Supreme Court justice Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? MORE in the executive courtesy suite of a U.S. airport. Of course there was no mention of the DOJ/FBI probe into the private emails of his wife, who at that time was running for president. 

 

The next week, Lynch announced she’s decided “to accept the recommendation of the FBI director and career prosecutors” and drop the Clinton email investigation. 

Comey understands full well at this point that none of the data his team has collected or the in-your-face fact that Clinton has violated the Federal Records Act is going to make it through the political barricades DOJ has erected around its top floor and Comey’s office.

The best he can do — hoping, no doubt, to save his job and walk the thin line between his duty to his county and a higher power — is spill the beans about the nature of the evidence and his investigation to the public and then pull back at the last minute. In doing so, however, he violates FBI regulations that prohibit the director (or his staff) from weighing in on the the evidence his team has garnered; the established protocol would be for the head of the FBI to pass the information to a line attorney at DOJ.

So he pulls the bulls-eye off the administration’s back, reproves Clinton — but doesn’t knock her out of the race — and undoubtedly takes a slight whipping for ignoring FBI regulations — which, ideally, would have buried the entire matter and reinforced the “post-truth” Clinton supporters still advance: “The Republicans set her up.” 

And then the plot thickens: Comey is encouraged, at the end of July, to open an investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russians trying, maybe, to throw the election his way. Congress knows nothing about this until the following March.

Comey’s in a bad place, increasingly seeing himself as a political pawn who is prohibited from fulfilling his obligation to enforce the law and used as an agent of, well, payback?

Yes, the FBI was wire-tapping conversations of Russian businessmen and officials who had or wanted to do business with Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNFL freezes policy barring players from protesting during anthem McConnell spokesman on Putin visit: 'There is no invitation from Congress' Petition urges University of Virginia not to hire Marc Short MORE or his associates, but talking to people — even Russians, even disreputable Russians — is not a crime. A quid pro quo arrangement is, but that hasn’t materialized.

You must have evidence. Comey had it in regard to Clinton’s use of an unsecured email server she used to transmit classified information. He does not appear to have evidence that Trump’s team played any kind of hanky-panky with the Ruskies.

But, again, this will not wash in a “post-truth” media or political culture, will it?

Neither will the assertion that former national security adviser Susan Rice appears to have requested the names of non-targeted Americans involved in conversations on those surveillance tapes be “unmasked,” a determination unequivocally reserved for the three agencies charged with the collection of such data: the FBI, CIA and NSA. 

The only way the Obama administration might have obtained the names of non-targeted Trump associates engaged in conversations under surveillance by the FBI was a direct request from Susan Rice or another White House staffer. 

And then, in a remarkable move, Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEx-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ Trump has the right foreign policy strategy — he just needs to stop talking The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump faces bipartisan criticism over Putin presser, blames media for coverage MORE ordered the information garnered via the FBI’s routine telephone surveillance of targeted Russian diplomats and businessmen be disseminated to more than a dozen other agencies in the U.S. intelligence community. What used to be called an objective analysis of the situation might suggest the goal was to maximize leaks. If you’re into “post-truth,” of course, it was clearly the right thing to do in an effort to keep “a madman” from the presidency.

But back to Comey.

Roughly a week before the presidential election, Comey and his team received a tip that even more unsecured Clinton emails had been discovered, on a laptop belonging to the disgraced husband of Clinton’s top aide, Huma Abedin, a woman who’s been tied in the press to the Muslim Brotherhood and who has worked both officially for the secretary of State and privately for the Clinton Foundation.

Comey put it all out there, just days before the election — a move that infuriated Clinton, who blames him for her eventual defeat. 

Obama then ordered Comey to double down on his investigation of “Russian influence” tipping the election to Trump.

Panicked, with paychecks still signed by their Democratic overseers, the intelligence community says “yes, yes, yes,” Putin had indeed ordered an “influence campaign” with a clear preference for Donald Trump — no details ever spelled out.

Finally, Trump is sworn in as president of the United States; by this time, House and Senate committees have begun their not-enough-manpower-and-not-enough-time investigations into the Russia conundrum. The narrative continues to flourish because the media understands how many millions of Trump-haters out there are willing to click on headlines chock-a-block with new allegations about the ways Russia is subverting the new Republican presidency and the nation.

Comey, done in by frantic attempts to serve too many masters, is fired.

But the story refuses to die.

 

Kathleen Millar is a founding member of the Department of Homeland Security, and a senior writer focusing on immigration and trafficking issues. She has also worked as a senior writer for the Director General of the United Nations in Vienna, Office on Drugs and Crime; for former Sen.r Olympia Snowe (R-Maine); for the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations; and as a writer for Foreign Policy blogs, where her beat has been global organized crime.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.