The Administration

OPINION: It’s not Watergate and Jim Comey is no Mark Felt

Watergate building
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Watergate building

Today’s political turmoil is now frequently compared to Watergate. James Comey, many are saying, has staunchly resisted the politicization of the FBI, just as Mark Felt did forty-five years ago. I wish it were so.

To be sure, Felt went to his famous garage meetings with reporter Bob Woodward because his superiors were restricting the FBI’s investigation for political purposes. He did not so much leak as he guided the young reporter. And when he did leak provably about the Daniel Ellsberg surveillance, William Ruckelshaus confonted him, leading Felt to resign. Felt wished anonymity to prevent harm to the Bureau’s image of fairness and impartiality. 

Comey, a skilled and capable Washington insider, is not playing the same game. Rather, he eagerly jumped into the political fray with his smooth, double-talking, July 5, 2016 press conference, at once proving Hillary Clinton’s crimes and opining that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges.

First off, the latter statement was patently untrue as a factual statement, as opposed to a political opinion. Many good prosecutors would charge that case, and would easily prove the gross negligence required. I hasten to add that I don’t think the case should have been brought against a major party presidential candidate, but that is my political opinion, not a statement of fact I would make as a former prosecutor.

Does anyone think that Comey made this political statement without prearrangement with Attorney General Loretta Lynch? That’s highly doubtful. Doing so without approval would have been insubordination. He took this one, to Lynch’s likely relief, for the team, which included Hillary Clinton. His later brief, half-hearted reopening was only to protect his now exposed right political flank. 

The “Russian collusion” investigation, as Comey should know, is like Jerry Seinfeld’s brainchild, a show about nothing. It is the elite left-wing equivalent to the populist right-wing birther conspiracy. He knew that a collusion investigation makes him a hero to powerful Democrats while giving him leverage over Trump. That’s why this master political player has slyly allowed rumors to swirl, while refusing to end the investigation as he did when he had a real case against Hillary Clinton.

Trump, clueless about Washington ways, brash and impulsive, correctly saw he had a weaving spider heading the FBI and wished him to not be disloyal. Trump was proven right in his suspicions, because Comey had been weaving a web of leaks and memos for months, directed against his boss. However, the president could not have handled this worse. 

But is Trump guilty of obstruction of justice for politically pressuring Comey? J. Edgar Hoover and Mark Felt both knew that resisting political pressure is an everyday part of the FBI’s job. For instance, when John Dean tried to persuade Felt and the FBI to find inauthentic a sizzling memo of ITT lobbyist Dita Beard documenting Nixon Administration corruption, Felt simply put on his big boy pants and refused to buckle. He didn’t set up the White House, he didn’t leak a memo, and he knew that this was not obstruction, because Dean took no corrupt action to change Felt’s stance. 

Did the smooth Comey win this political battle against the inartful president? I would say so. But is Comey today’s Mark Felt? I knew Mark Felt. Mark Felt was a friend of mine. James Comey is no Mark Felt.   

John D. O’Connor is a San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005.  O’Connor is the co-author of A G-Man’s Life: The FBI, Being ‘Deep Throat,’ and the Struggle for Honor in Washington and is a producer of the upcoming film about Mark Felt, The Silent Man, written and directed by Peter Landesman.

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

Tags Donald Trump FBI Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton Jim Comey Loretta Lynch Mark Felt Russia probe Watergate
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