At 6’8”, fired FBI director James Comey moves through life like a shark’s fin, well above the water level set by the rest of us. This brings attention, which he appears to enjoy, perhaps even crave. He has become a public performer over the past three years, cultivating a disarming “aw shucks, lordy, lordy” persona while covering his damaging actions with milky platitudes.
Rushing into victimland is a common strategy for the cornered. Another is staking out an imagined noble duty to a contrived higher authority — one that looks strikingly similar to the image he sees in the mirror each morning.
But here in the real world, this is what the IG’s investigation has confirmed: James Comey, as FBI director, created and maintained a separate record system that he kept in a desk drawer. He then also took most of those official records home. If that wasn’t enough recklessness, he leaked some of those records to the press after he was fired.
To Comey, all of this is justified because some hero has to rise up and stand in the breach. But the IG methodically lists the numerous policies Comey violated, policies carefully designed over time to prevent the abuse of authority by those who self-craft a “higher loyalty” in their minds, thereby exempting themselves from the rules. Comey was no hero; he was nothing more than an executive vigilante.
Creating a separate record system in the FBI is a mortal sin, and with good reason. Every newly minted agent at Quantico learns this as part of FBI 101. Anytime an FBI agent, to include the director, collects information in an official capacity, that information must be documented, associated with a case file number and entered into the FBI’s case management system. Comey never did that. In fact, his now infamous memos weren’t entered into the official FBI system until after he was fired.
Having one system of record ensures that all information collected by the FBI is searchable, discoverable and transparently linked to the authorities that allow that collection. A separate, hidden record system gives rise to suspicions and disrupts the economy of trust that the FBI has worked hard to maintain with the American people.
Comey is quoted extensively in the IG’s report and appears nonchalant in his disregard for such rules. He asserts a theory of personal property over the memos he wrote that the IG easily swats aside in its shallow absurdity.
But his assertion of personal ownership of the memos documenting his encounters with President Trump does give off a whiff of self-interest that a future memoir was his true motivator. Less than a year after his firing — voila! — his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” was published.
Each of Comey’s violations — creating separate records, taking them home and leaking them to the press — are fireable offenses and, if he were still FBI director, that undoubtedly would be his fate. It’s almost too bad he can’t be fired again, just for emphasis.
Comey may try to deflect with celebratory comments that he wasn’t charged with mishandling classified information, but he remains in a precarious position — and the trend lines aren’t good.
Next up will be the IG’s findings regarding Comey’s truthfulness before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court and whether he attested to false or misleading statements in order to electronically monitor a presidential campaign.
That determination may not be as cut-and-dried as many think it is, but it hopefully, at a minimum, will explain why Comey believed he could sign off multiple times on a FISA application based largely on information that he, himself, described as “salacious and unverified.” His exposure here is potentially much more devastating than breaking FBI record retention and handling rules.
Close behind the IG’s second report will be findings by U.S. Attorney John Durham whether Comey and his rogue team of investigators violated FBI and departmental guidelines to initiate a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign. They will determine if Comey had adequate justification for launching such an unprecedented investigation.
But beyond that, Mr. Durham and his team likely will follow up on emerging indicators that Comey may have colluded with other intelligence community leaders to actually “manufacture” the justification needed for an investigation by targeting covert informants against campaign representatives in violation of established policies and procedures.
In short, James Comey is not out of the woods after the first IG report, which has exposed him as someone who casually and carelessly disregarded established rules and regulations. It is not a stretch to imagine that this disregard carried over into other more serious areas of potential abuse of authority.
Comey is owed no apology by anyone. By his own publicity-seeking behaviors since crashing onto the scene in July 2016 he has verified his animus and political biases. Without any further findings he already has disgraced that noble office. He owes an apology to every FBI employee, past and present, who toiled to win the trust of the American people that he has so severely damaged.
Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, was an FBI special agent for 24 years and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He is a founder and principal of NewStreet Global Solutions, which consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.