Why James Comey must resign now
© Cameron Lancaster

There are 15 words that James Comey must speak today to preserve the integrity of the FBI and our democratic process: "In the best interests of the nation, I hereby resign as director of the FBI."

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Our democracy depends on the impartial application of the law, especially by the FBI, the nation's premier law enforcement agency.

In just six months, Comey has destroyed the progress made in restoring the integrity of the post-J. Edgar Hoover FBI.

He has blatantly used his position to influence the outcome of a presidential election and put the FBI at the center of political controversy, a place where it should never be. He has done so through his own unforced actions in violation of longstanding policies designed to steer the FBI clear of partisan politics.

In baseball, three strikes and you are out. Comey has not just three, but five strikes against him. 

1. Editorializing about Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary and Chelsea Clinton to host series based on their book 'Gutsy Women' Democrats see spike in turnout among Asian American, Pacific Islander voters Biden officially announces ex-Obama official Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE's email practices.

In July, Comey announced that the FBI had not found anything illegal in Clinton's use of a private email server while serving as secretary of State.

Fair enough.

However, Comey had no other choice, as he admitted that not a single one of the many career FBI agents involved in the investigation would have recommended prosecution.

But Comey did not stop there. In violation of standard practice, Comey chose to add on his personal opinion that condemned Clinton's email practices as "extremely careless."

Imagine that you own a small business that is under FBI investigation regarding your financial transactions. The FBI finds no violation of law, but the director wrecks your business by then opining that your financial dealings were "extremely careless."

Every fair-minded American would be rightly outraged. Yet this is directly analogous to what Director Comey did in the Clinton case.  

2. Sending his bombshell letter to Congress.

Comey gave a priceless gift to the Trump campaign by releasing a letter to Congress about the discovery of emails found on the server of the disgraced husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

This letter turned the national conversation to Clinton's emails and away from the issues of the election and Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAppeals court OKs White House diverting military funding to border wall construction Pentagon: Tentative meeting between spy agencies, Biden transition set for early next week Conservative policy director calls Section 230 repeal an 'existential threat' for tech MORE's fitness for the presidency.

It has become Trump's major talking point in the late stages of the campaign.

Comey issued the letter just 11 days before the election in clear violation of Justice Department policy that law enforcement officials must refrain from providing politically sensitive information 60 days prior to an election.

Comey issued the letter despite warnings from his superiors at Justice that he was violating this policy.

The letter served absolutely no public purpose other than to provide cover for Comey, who had been under intense pressure from Republicans for his finding of no illegality in the Clinton investigation. This ambiguous yet politically explosive letter only said that the Abedin emails "appear to be pertinent to the investigation" and "cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant."

Moreover, Comey appears to have released the letter before having examined any of the emails in question.

The letter also gives Trump an opportunity to spin new lies. He has said that the disclosure of emails that only appear to be pertinent and may be of no significance are "worse than Watergate."

Yet Watergate involved much more than a break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, as reprehensible at that crime may be. It involved an effort to undermine fundamentally our elections and government.

Republican Sen. Ed Brooke of Massachusetts wrote at the time: "Too many Republicans have defined that dread word 'Watergate' too narrowly,” It is not just the stupid, unprofitable, break-in attempt. ... It is perjury. Obstruction of justice. The solicitation and acceptance of hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions. It is a pattern of arrogance, illegality and lies which ought to shock the conscience of every Republican."

3. Partially releasing the FBI file on the closed Marc Rich pardon investigation.

Apparently in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request just a week before the election, the FBI released a partial file of a long-closed investigation into President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson Clinton'Black Panther' star criticized for sharing video questioning COVID-19 vaccine Black voters: Low propensity, or low priority? Biden says he will join former presidents and publicly get coronavirus vaccine MORE's pardon of financier Marc Rich.

There is not even an argument to be made that the release of the file just before the election served a public purpose. The file contained no new information and the case was closed 15 years ago.

The FBI could have waited until after the election for this release. The only effect of the pre-election disclosure was to cast another cloud over the Clinton candidacy and help Trump.

Ironically, the released material did not include the ultimate FBI finding that cleared Clinton of any illegality.

In its defense, the FBI claimed that this release was part of an automatic process for publicly disclosing the response to a FOIA request. Yet every independent authority has debunked or even laughed at this excuse.

Government agencies often delay their response to FOIA requests for months, even years. Absent a court order, which did not apply here, there is no specific deadline for the release of information pursuant to a FOIA request.

4. Keeping silent on the Russian connection.

Although Comey has provided an unprecedented blow-by-blow account of the Clinton email investigation, he has refused to even comment on whether or not the FBI is conducting an investigation into Russian hacking of Democratic emails or the connection between this hacking and the Trump campaign.

Ironically, and hypocritically, his justification for this silence appears to have been a reluctance to interfere with the presidential election. He was also virtually alone in refusing, for ostensibly the same excuse, to certify the finding of intelligence agencies that the Russians are behind the Democratic hackings.

Clearly, any comments on the Russian connection would have been harmful to the Trump campaign. Trump has uniquely benefited from the hacking, which resulted in the release of tens of thousands of Democratic documents and not a single Republican document.

Imagine trying to judge a contentious divorce by hearing only one side of the story. Who knows what might be found in the emails of Steve Bannon, Roger Stone or Paul Manafort?

Even more damaging would have been any connection between the Russian hacking and persons who worked on the Trump campaign. 

5. Losing control over the FBI.

Comey has lost control over his agency. Unnamed FBI officials, again in violation of standard practice, have leaked information about FBI investigations relevant to the presidential campaign.

Given the nature of leaks, it is impossible to verify the information provided or put it into full context.

Make no mistake: Comey is a partisan Republican who donated money to past GOP nominees John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSmearing presidential election will turn off young voters and undermine democracy Choking — not cheating — was Trump's undoing Gabby Giffords congratulates Mark Kelly with throwback photo of her own swearing-in MORE in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. He only changed his lifelong Republican registration to independent after he became FBI director.

Hardly an indication of a partisan change of heart.

Comey can only restore his own reputation and protect the integrity of the FBI and the proper functioning of our democracy by resigning.

He must do so now — not after the election, when it won't matter.

Lichtman is a distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington.


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