Comey’s ‘who cares?’ reply recalls ‘what difference?’ retort

By John Solomon
Opinion Contributor

A few years ago, when the FBI began investigating classified information flowing through a private email server, it was hard to imagine that James ComeyJames Brien ComeySurveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn Comey responds to Trump with Mariah Carey gif: 'Why are you so obsessed with me?' MORE and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton to start new podcast Centrist Democrats insist Sanders would need delegate majority to win President Trump is weak against Bernie Sanders in foreign affairs MORE could share much in common.

He was then the FBI director, a Republican, and the man leading the probe. She was a former secretary of State, a Democrat, and the presidential candidate under investigation for email security lapses.

But the passage of time has brought the two into a similar orbit. Both are Democrats now. Both dislike President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Memo: Biden seeks revival in South Carolina Congress eyes billion to billion to combat coronavirus Sanders makes the case against Biden ahead of SC primary MORE. Both have expressed discontent with being the subject of congressional oversight.

And both now have given flip answers to lawmakers that history likely will regard with disdain.

In 2013, Secretary Clinton infamously snapped, “What difference at this point does it make?” when pressed by Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonSurveillance fight emerges as intelligence flashpoint Congress eyes killing controversial surveillance program Whistleblower retaliation: Stop confusing unlawful attacks with politics MORE (R-Wis.) during a committee hearing about whether the attack on the State Department’s Benghazi compound was prompted by planned terrorism or spontaneous protests over an anti-Muslim video.

The facts brought forth by congressional oversight would later show that 1) the attack was pre-planned by terrorists; 2) the tragedy was preceded by security concerns that the Benghazi compound was vulnerable; and 3) that Clinton knew, early on, that the attack was terror-related, even as her United Nations ambassador suggested otherwise on national TV.

The “difference,” lawmakers concluded, was clear.

Clinton’s department should have been better prepared for the attack and safeguarded the compound. Instead, it rejected multiple requests for more security and left in place inadequate protections, according to the State Department’s own accountability assessment.

Fast-forward to this past Monday. That’s when Comey gave two answers similarly dripping with contempt.

The FBI director answered “Who cares?” when pressed by Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsSanders, socialism emerge as top targets at CPAC Trump upends controversial surveillance fight House Freedom Caucus chairman endorses Collins's Georgia Senate bid MORE (R-N.C.) on whether the FBI should have used a Democratic-funded dossier in 2016 to justify a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Republican Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and its relationship with former adviser Carter Page.

Comey later admitted “there was potential bias in this information,” but again dismissed the significance: “To me, it didn’t matter.”

And, a few hours later in front of reporters, Comey gave this response when asked whether he shared responsibility for the FBI’s diminished reputation in the aftermath of the Russia and Clinton email scandals: “No. The FBI’s reputation has taken a big hit because the president of the United States with his acolytes has lied about it constantly.”

Investigations by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesEthics complaint filed against Nunes asks how he's paying for lawsuits The Hill's Morning Report - Can Sanders be stopped? Trump creates new headaches for GOP with top intelligence pick MORE (R-Calif.), Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — California monitoring 8,400 people for coronavirus | Pence taps career official to coordinate response | Dems insist on guardrails for funding Top Trump advisers discuss GOP need to act on health care at retreat with senators McSally unveils bill to lower drug prices amid tough campaign MORE (R-Iowa) and House Republicans Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanTrump upends controversial surveillance fight Twitter falling short on pledge to verify primary candidates Trump adviser presses House investigators to make Bezos testify MORE of Ohio and Meadows have provided a clear rebuttal to Comey’s first remark.

They have concluded that the dossier 1) was politically motivated; 2) was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee without the FISA judges’ knowledge; and 3) was not verified before it was submitted to the FISA court by Comey’s FBI as the primary evidence supporting the warrant.

Furthermore, the dossier’s author, British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, has testified previously that information in his document was not verified. He also disclosed, to a senior Justice Department official, the animus he felt toward Trump. And he was terminated for violating FBI rules.

The FISA law requires that evidence used to support a FISA warrant be verified and come from a trusted source. Comey admits that the dossier was unverified when it was used as evidence. And Steele’s self-described bias, and his conduct that led to his firing as a source by the FBI, weigh against his credibility.

The rebuttal to the second Comey comment comes from a series of Justice Department inspector general reports.

The IG has concluded that Comey wrongly usurped the authority of the attorney general when he decided, and announced on his own, that charges wouldn’t be filed in the Clinton email case, and that he improperly announced the re-opening of the case days before the 2016 election. The IG’s findings validated the reasons that the Trump administration gave for firing Comey.

The IG also has found that the FBI employees Comey assigned to work the Russia case, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, improperly expressed bias against Trump during official government communications and that Comey’s own deputy, Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeTrump shakes up Justice Department, intelligence community Trump allies assembled lists of officials considered disloyal to president: report Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn MORE, authorized a leak and then later lied about it.

In fact, nearly all of the key players in the Russia and Clinton cases have exited the FBI. Comey, McCabe and Strzok were fired; Page, former FBI counsel James Baker and former counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap have left on their own.

In a buck-stops-at-the-top profession, Comey clearly shares blame for the FBI bumbling on his watch. Just as Clinton did for the security failures at Benghazi.

And the American public only knows the truth about these episodes because of aggressive congressional oversight that occurred afterwards, a process that both political figures chafed at with contempt.

Both would be wise to recognize that people do “care” about government competence and that making better decisions would have made a crucial “difference” in two moments of epic failure.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill’s executive vice president for video.