Harry Reid shook a plastic pumpkin at James Comey’s door…. (More)
“The double standard established by your actions is clear”
Of course it wasn’t a real plastic pumpkin, and Reid wasn’t really at Comey’s door. And contrary to internet rumors, Reid probably was not wearing a squirrel costume. Even so, Reid went trick-or-treating:
Dear Director Comey:
Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another. I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.
The double standard established by your actions is clear.
In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government – a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.
By contrast, as soon as you came into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible.
It wasn’t quite “Trick or treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!” but Reid isn’t a first-grader. He’s the Senate Minority Leader, and he said Comey might have violated the Hatch Act:
As you know, a memo authored by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on March 10, 2016, makes clear that all Justice Department employees, including you, are subject to the Hatch Act. The memo defines the political activity prohibited under the Hatch Act as “activity directed towards the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group.”
The clear double-standard established by your actions strongly suggests that your highly selective approach to publicizing information, along with your timing, was intended for the success or failure of a partisan candidate or political group.
Reid also expressed his personal disappointment:
Please keep in mind that I have been a supporter of yours in the past. When Republicans filibustered your nomination and delayed your confirmation longer than any previous nominee to your position, I led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant.
With the deepest regret, I now see that I was wrong.
Also, stop giving those mini-Snickers bars to Republicans and dumping that icky candy corn on Democrats. So there.
“This is what is so damaging when people start violating norms”
I’ve said a number of times that I do not believe Comey acted out of a desire to interfere with the outcome of the election. I still believe that. But I’m not sure it matters. What seems inescapable is that Comey has made avoiding criticism from Republicans (and leaks by FBI agents that would generate such criticism) his top, almost his sole priority. That being the case, his intent seems all but irrelevant. It amounts to some professional equivalent of reckless disregard, perhaps with a smattering of generally irrelevant naïveté thrown in.
Still more troubling is the information contained in this just released article in The Wall Street Journal by Devlin Barrett. It describes what the article describes as a feud within the FBI and between the FBI and the Department of Justice over the Clinton probe. It now seems clear that what are essentially rogue FBI agents have been looking for all sorts of different angles to pursue investigations of Hillary Clinton and her family. Indeed, they’ve presented their evidence to career public corruption prosecutors at DOJ and been told they don’t have anything. But it hasn’t stopped. They clearly were not happy with the decision in the emails probe even though Comey said not even a close call.
This seems to be the backstory of what happened on Friday. Agents pushing for more aggressive investigations on various fronts, Comey fearing he’d be blamed after the fact for not notifying Congress in the letter he sent and specifically being afraid that some of these agents would leak news of the possibly new Huma Abedin emails to Congress. These are not fun situations to be in, I am sure. But they are ones an FBI Director should, indeed must, be willing to stand up to.
For starters, Comey could (and should) fire rogue agents who put their Clinton hatred over their sworn duty. That Wall Street Journal article doesn’t claim those agents have evidence that Comey and/or DOJ officials are burying. To the contrary, they seem to be parroting right-wing memes about the Clinton Foundation and other pseudo-scandals. Simply, they wanted Clinton indicted for … well, something … and at least some are happy to feed conspiracy theories to fellow travelers in the conservative media.
Which leads to Marshall’s criticism of Reid:
Harry Reid is now out with extreme criticism of Comey and accusations about FBI findings about Donald Trump and connections with Russia. I noted a few weeks ago that this is what is so damaging when people start violating norms, interfering in elections. It starts to seem rational for others to do it as well.
Umm, it doesn’t merely “seem rational.” At some point, Democrats must fight back or give Republicans a monopoly on criminalizing politics.
“It’s a step-by-step process”
Case in point – it turns out FBI agents in New York sat on this for weeks:
FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state knew early this month that messages recovered in a separate probe might be germane to their case, but they waited weeks before briefing the FBI director, according to people familiar with the case.
Director James B. Comey has written that he was informed of the development Thursday, and he sent a letter to legislators the next day letting them know that he thought the team should take “appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to review these emails.”
So why didn’t they come forward sooner? Well….
Officials said the agents probing Clinton’s private email server didn’t tell the director immediately because they were trying to better assess what they had.
“It’s a step-by-step process,” said one senior law enforcement official. “There are many steps along the way that get you to a place where the director can be appropriately briefed in order to make a decision” about whether to move forward.
According to a law enforcement source familiar with the matter, federal authorities looking into the Weiner matter first discovered the emails weeks ago. The process that followed was a complicated one, with lots of back and forth over how to handle the situation and whether the FBI needed to get a warrant in order to review the newly discovered emails.
That doesn’t sound like “a step-by-step process.” It sounds like inter-office bickering, with those rogue agents finally threatening to run to the media unless the lead investigators and Comey agreed to hype these (probably duplicate) emails as Our Last, Best Hope to Indict Hillary (Or At Least Flip The Election).
“A big fan of transparency”
Comey all-but guaranteed that back in July when, rather than following procedure and forwarding the FBI’s findings and recommendations to the DOJ, he held a press conference to add his personal opinions. He then testified to Congress about what was still an open investigation and turned over the FBI’s summaries of witness interviews, knowing House Republicans hoped to charge Clinton with perjury if any detail of her 11-hour testimony in March differed from the FBI’s interview notes.
His excuse? The all-purpose ‘transparency’ trope:
Back in July, when he made his recommendation not to prosecute, he read a lengthy public statement explaining that “I am going to include more detail about our process than I ordinarily would, because I think the American people deserve those details in a case of intense public interest.”
Then he testified to Congress about being “a big fan of transparency” and a “huge fan of transparency” because “transparency matters tremendously” and “that’s what makes our democracy great.” Said Comey: “Transparency is the absolute best thing for me and for democracy.”
Until ‘transparency’ didn’t suit his purposes:
Now Comey has decided opacity is better for him, sending a vague letter to Congress while leaving it to anonymous officials to attempt to explain his reasoning to the public, via the press. Does he suppose that the American people no longer “deserve those details in a case of intense public interest”? In his brief words written to FBI employees Friday, Comey acknowledged there was a “significant risk of being misunderstood.” But the way to avoid being misunderstood is to explain himself publicly and fully, the way he did in July.
Well yeah, that’s one way.
“Real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit”
Even better, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank argues, don’t try to run the FBI as a reality TV show:
Events as they have played out point to the value of the department’s traditions. Having taken the extraordinary steps of briefing the public, testifying before Congress about a decision not to prosecute and sharing investigative material, Comey now finds himself wanting to update the public and Congress on each new development in the investigation, even before he and others have had a chance to assess its significance. He may well have been criticized after the fact had he not advised Congress of the investigative steps that he was taking. But it was his job – consistent with the best traditions of the Justice Department – to make the right decision and take that criticism if it came. Department officials owe the public an explanation of how events have unfolded the way they have. There must be some recognition that it is important not to allow an investigation to become hijacked by the red-hot passions of a political contest.
As it stands, we now have real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation. Perhaps worst of all, it is happening on the eve of a presidential election. It is antithetical to the interests of justice, putting a thumb on the scale of this election and damaging our democracy.
It’s especially unjust when the FBI selects only one target – Hillary Clinton – for investigation-as-reality-TV treatment. And that’s why Harry Reid put on that squirrel costume (or didn’t) and shook that (metaphorical) plastic pumpkin at Comey’s door.
If the New Rulez are the FBI updates Congress and the media day-to-day on ongoing investigations – even if they have no new evidence – then follow the New Rulez for all investigations … including whether Trump or his campaign staff communicated with and/or have financial ties to the Russian intelligence leaders behind the WikiLeaks hacks.
And if those aren’t the New Rulez, then stop forcing Clinton to defend herself against what Rep. Adam Schiff brilliantly dubbed an “ambiguity bomb.”
Oh, fire those rogue agents.
And would someone please pick the nuts out of those mini-Snickers bars? Squirrels can’t have the chocolate….
Photo Credit: Alex Wong (Getty Images)
Good day and good nuts