We should all agree with James Comey’s assertions in A Higher Loyalty that our system of justice needs to maintain a reservoir of public trust in the independence of the Department of Justice, especially its investigative branch, the FBI. Unfortunately, Comey’s book demonstrates that, both as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration and as FBI director during the Obama and Trump presidencies, he has played underhanded, partisan games which have drained that reservoir dry.
In a January 22, 2017 dinner with President Trump, when Trump asked Comey if he could count on him to be “reliable,” Comey replied, “I didn’t do sneaky things… and I don’t leak.” In fact, those are two of Comey’s favorite activities.
In the tumultuous, finger-pointing aftermath of the 2003 Iraq Invasion, no one did more to throw the country into partisan turmoil than Deputy Attorney General Comey, by his dishonestly causing the Special Counsel’s investigation and conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff.
While Comey was perjury-trapping Libby in a crimeless investigation, he cleverly threw monkey wrenches into various anti-terrorist programs supported by Cheney, as to whom, to gain appointment, he had previously disguised his partisan disgust.
During the Obama administration, as director of the FBI, Comey whitewashed the egregious harassment by the IRS, via Lois Lerner, of conservative groups (p. 186, A Higher Loyalty) seeking to support causes of which the White House disapproved. He soft-soaped Clinton Foundation corruption, apparently not examining thousands of Clinton emails, then sanctioned the destruction of 30,000 of them in the later, more public Hillary Clinton email investigation. He then threw the FBI’s strong tradition of independence behind his partisan, legally questionable exoneration of Clinton, certainly to gain the winking approval of a woman he thought would be the incoming president.
Disappointed with the election of Donald Trump, a man he clearly loathed before ever meeting him, Comey set up Trump for a leak of the horrid Steele Dossier, while churning up a phony “Russian Collusion” investigation that roils our country to this day. He then, he admits, sneakily caused the appointment of a Special Counsel to carry out the Russian collusion investigation he had knowingly trumped (please excuse) up.
His biggest deception is his self-description as an independent, down-the-middle FBI law enforcer without, he pains to tell us, a “Democratic pedigree.” In fact, he conceals from the reader that he was at the time of his appointment in 2013 a registered Democrat, along with his ardent Obama-supporting family, and had taken strong partisan, anti-conservative positions since 2003. There is nothing wrong with that, if he had not concealed his partisan views from the Bush administration when appointed deputy attorney general in 2003, and now conceals his partisan affiliation from the readers of his book. Radical transparency? It doesn’t seem so. The Bush White House, Comey proudly admits, came to view him as a “loaded gun,” after Comey spent his tenure undermining the anti-terrorist policies of the administration he was supposedly serving.
Throughout his book, Comey dissembles, very cleverly, about the substance of his key actions. He tells us six times, for example, that Valerie Plame, the CIA agent involved in the Libby prosecution, was a “covert agent,” from a layman’s point of view perhaps arguably correct, since she had assumed false identities on several postings. But, as the Special Prosecutor eventually admitted, Plame was not a covert agent as defined by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, on which the crimeless investigation was falsely premised by Comey.
Such crimeless investigations, of which Comey is a devious master, were clearly designed as perjury traps. Libby was motivated to falsely deny speaking to reporters about Plame because he thought that was a crime, which it wasn’t. Michael Flynn when questioned by Comey’s FBI agents in December 2016 ostensibly about possible violations of the Logan Act (private parties pursuing foreign policy), Flynn falsely denied discussing sanctions with the Russian Ambassador, even though this was not illegal, and the Logan Act was a dead letter. Minor Trump Campaign official George Papadopoulos, similarly, denied speaking to Kremlin-connected Russians, likely for fear of admitting to “Russian collusion,” an amorphous non-crime if unconnected to an otherwise truly illegal scheme.
In contrast to his work with Bush, Comey pulled his punches on the investigations in which he, as FBI Director, exonerated Obama/Clinton officials. But what, if anything, did Comey do in these investigations that was provably unethical? For one, the FBI should not be making charging decisions, because they can be seen as political, and therefore are clearly the province of DOJ prosecutors, not an independent FBI. For another, he recommended no Special Counsel for any of them, even though the conflicts were clear. He even admits in his book that he should have recommended one for the Clinton email investigation, marred by the Loretta Lynch/Bill Clinton tarmac meeting. If so, why didn’t he? Because, he tells us, continuing the investigation through a Special Counsel might cause some to think the presidential candidate was guilty, which would be, he said, “a lie.” Wasn’t this a partisan, not apolitical, judgment?
He did not apply the same standards to his subversion of conservative administrations. He appointed his child’s godfather, Patrick Fitzgerald, as special counsel in the Plame/Libby investigation (explaining to his readers that Fitzgerald had “independence” because he lived in Chicago) even though Comey knew there was no crime, which, by the way, he concealed from the readers of his book. Years later, he importuned Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel (the unimpeachable Robert Mueller), even though he knew there was no crime causing a potential conflict, that is, no Russian electoral interference collusion, and that the Steele Dossier was opposition research rubbish. The partisan provenance of this dossier he concealed from President Trump as he sought seeming “leverage” (which he denies) over Trump. So, to Comey, special counsel appointments are appropriate, even with no crime, if used to investigate Republicans, but inappropriate where there was probable criminality causing a conflict with Clinton/Obama officials.
Comey snarkily refused President Trump’s several requests for a public FBI statement exonerating him, explaining to the reader that the requests reminded him of Mafia doings. But to justify his public exoneration of Hillary Clinton, Comey gives his readers several similar examples, such as the public exoneration of Lois Lerner, which were, he claims, in the public interest. Simple logic therefore shows that he was encouraging, by his refusal to exonerate Trump, the false public inference of Trump’s guilt, refusing the same public exoneration afforded seeming perpetrators Clinton and Lerner.
There is much more evidence in Comey’s book of his devious spinning of webs. For example, his leak of his Trump conversation memos were neither, he claims, FBI documents (even though he put them in FBI files and discussed them with his FBI team), nor classified (even though they concerned national security conversations with the sitting president, protected by the president’s executive privilege). You know, the executive privilege frequently invoked, with Comey’s approval, by President Obama.
Comey contends that the ostensibly leaked Steele Dossier story was not a leak because Buzzfeed could have obtained the document from non-government sources. But he conceals from the reader that there was a leak to CNN of the private Comey-Trump meeting about the same salacious allegations and that Comey and DNI James Clapper were obvious sources. Likely suspecting Comey, Trump thereafter asked Comey if he could have his loyalty, a reasonable request given this breach of confidentiality.
While Comey also portrays that request as Mafia-like, he should know that all government and corporate employees owe duties of loyalty to their organizations. Not only is demanding organizational loyalty not criminal, it is highly appropriate, especially of a leaking subordinate. But rather than give Trump due institutional loyalty as the Chief Executive of his country, Comey sneakily prepared memos of his confidential conversation with the president, discussed them with his team, and later leaked them.
Apropos of Mafia-like loyalty, does anyone on the planet believe, as Comey claims, that he did not tell Attorney General Loretta Lynch or Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates of his planned exoneration of Hillary Clinton? Are we to believe that he was free to reach a prosecutorial decision, not his to make, without coordinating with the prosecutors who did have that authority? So, yes, Comey reveals a dishonest Mob loyalty. But its practitioners include various Clinton, Obama and FBI officials who likely conspired with Comey to exonerate Clinton and wrongly pursue Trump, while concealing this likely coordination.
Throughout his book, Comey unintentionally reveals his unethical loyalty to this partisan cabal, while publicly denying anything other than loyalty to an exalted higher truth. So, at bottom, A Higher Loyalty is an unctuous defense of his many years of subversion of our most valued governmental institutions. Comey, like a clever Mafioso, will likely not be convicted for his deviousness because, as a mob soldier might boast, the case against him is only circumstantial.
But we can convict him in the court of public opinion of taking the actions he flatly denied to the president: doing “sneaky things” and leaking. His supposedly higher loyalty, it turns out, was in fact a lower loyalty to his own personal agenda, causing harm to the system of justice he was sworn to uphold.
John D. O’Connor is the 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 “Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House” (2017), written and directed by Peter Landesman.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.