IG report doesn’t fault Comey for ‘partisanship,’ but it should have for his incompetence

IG report doesn’t fault Comey for ‘partisanship,’ but it should have for his incompetence
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The most famous report in the 42-year history of the Department of Justice’s inspector general is 568 pages  and contains a thorough review of more than a million documents. The “who’s who” list of the more than 100 people interviewed by the inspector general (IG) includes, fired FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyComey: 'Patriots need to stand up and reject' Trump's behavior Swalwell: Trump delaying end of Russia probe with refusal to testify Why does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? MORE, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesSupreme Court hands Trump predictable win on travel ban IG report doesn’t fault Comey for ‘partisanship,’ but it should have for his incompetence Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Health chief grilled on Trump drug pricing plan, ObamaCare case MORE and former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhy did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? An orthodox legal life and the case for Judge Kavanaugh Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE.

I read the report as someone who spent a quarter-century in the FBI and now serves as a media commentator on law enforcement. I have opinions predicated on years of experience serving under four of the bureau’s eight directors; I helped provide counsel to those in power, led complex investigations and conducted dangerous overseas operations. I made decisions that impacted lives or involved sensitive considerations.

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FBI agents are taught from their earliest training days to follow the evidence, wherever it may lead, and to always conduct investigations bereft of fear or favor. It’s in our DNA.

 

During the IG’s 17-month probe, I have cautiously staked positions and transparently adjusted them as new revelations came to light. I’ve remained stolidly cognizant of the difficulties inherent in decision-making during these trying times in our nation’s history. Moreover, I have striven mightily to afford career public servants the benefit of the doubt, until they prove themselves undeserving of that.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz is, by all accounts, a straight shooter. He was appointed to the position by President Obama in April 2012. Blessedly, I never had the misfortune of being on the business end of one of his investigations, but his reputation while I was in the FBI was sterling, his nonpartisan bona fides unimpeachable.

His investigation determined that Comey violated FBI norms on the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonShocking summit with Putin caps off Trump’s turbulent Europe trip GOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Trump stuns the world at Putin summit MORE private email probe — although his conduct was not deemed to be politically motivated. Horowitz’s assessment is that political bias played no role in conclusions reached by the FBI.

The report makes clear that two of Comey subordinates — then-Counterintelligence Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page — exchanged anti-Trump text messages. But it also concludes that “we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions we reviewed.”

As Peter Hasson, a Daily Caller reporter, pointed out on Twitter, this report is specifically related to the Clinton investigation. Strzok and Page inexplicably had their tentacles in both the Clinton case and the Trump-Russia probe.

There is another IG investigation into the Russia probe. Some may conflate the two and view this report as a definitive end-state. It’s not. Mark my words: This is going to get messier before it all concludes.

One fact may be overlooked by many, except for veterans of the FBI: Relative youngsters were making monumental decisions within an agency whose leadership was once staffed by experienced “been there, done that” folks.

Unfortunately, a policy enacted by former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and continued by Comey, incentivized a promotion process that encouraged young, wholly unprepared FBI agents to leave their field offices and relocate to the FBI headquarters “bubble” for the duration of their careers — and that, directly or indirectly, led to this catastrophe.

Folks like Strzok and fired former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeWhy does Congress keep playing political games on FBI oversight? FBI confidence in leaders sank after Comey was fired: report Former FBI lawyer Lisa Page gets closed-door grilling from House Republicans MORE were beneficiaries of this policy that rewarded ambition and a willingness to uproot one’s family. Comey had a chance to change this policy and failed to do so, despite being advised to by an overwhelming majority of his division heads.

And this goes to the core of who Comey is — a nice guy, wonderful family man, eloquent speaker of soaring oratory and rhetorical flourishes, but who was ill-suited and woefully underprepared for the big stage. Comey’s exceedingly poor personnel decisions directly led to this mess.

The IG report highlights that Strzok and Page shared this previously unreleased text exchange between two central figures in two of the FBI’s most consequential recent cases:

Page, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

Strzok, “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.”

Some of Comey’s most ardent fans view him as a symbol of the #Resistance, their allegiances tied to their shared disdain for this president. Comey’s problem has always been his hubris; he feels he is the smartest, most pious man in every room. The report doesn’t fault him for “partisanship” — but it should have criticized him for his incompetence, fueled by a fanatical adherence to his perception of his own righteousness.

In a review for the Washington Post of Comey’s book — more like a lecture on ethical leadership — entitled “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Carlos Lozada succinctly summed up Comey with this quip, “Comey isn’t just the kind of writer who quotes Shakespeare, but the kind who quotes himself quoting Shakespeare.” How true.

The FBI will survive the release of this IG report, and it will survive the release of the next report related to the Russia probe. It will endure the black eyes brought on by a sanctimonious leader whose major flaw was his failure to recognize that he didn’t always surround himself with the kind of people who would bluntly advise him when he was figuratively naked, as in the tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

That, of course, is the cautionary tale for the ages written in 1837 by Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish author of beloved fairy tales — and it still provides us the necessary insight to understand how a well-intentioned former federal prosecutor could remain rigidly nonpartisan yet blissfully ignorant of how he wreaked incalculable harm on an agency he professed to love.

James Comey wasn’t rebuked for partisanship in the IG report. He was, however, exposed for being impressive in invisible threads.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano