WSJ: Time for Comey to go

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Has James Comey reached the end of the road at the FBI? Under fire from both political parties for months and now the subject of an internal Department of Justice probe into his handling of the Hillary Clinton scandals, it must seem like a good time to, er, spend more time with the family. If Comey won’t leave the FBI on his own, the editors of the Wall Street Journal write in today’s edition, the incoming president should unleash his reality-TV signature line on him:

There may be a temptation among some in the Trump Administration to want Mr. Comey to remain in office, on the theory that they benefitted politically from his October letter. But if the FBI director has demonstrated anything in the last year, it’s that he has lost the trust of nearly everyone in Washington, along with every American who believes the FBI must maintain its reputation as a politically impartial federal agency.

The Justice Department’s Inspector General said Thursday that he plans to investigate how Mr. Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, handled the Clinton probe, which means the 2016 election melodrama will continue into the new Administration.

The best service Mr. Comey can render his country now is to resign. Failing that, Jeff Sessions should invite him for a meeting after he is confirmed as Attorney General and ask him to resign. If Mr. Comey declines, Donald Trump can and should fire him in the best interests of the nation’s most important law enforcement agency.

Perhaps a hint of Comey’s problems can be seen in Donald Trump’s Twitter feed this morning:

What are Hillary Clinton's people complaining about with respect to the F.B.I. Based on the information they had she should never…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

have been allowed to run – guilty as hell. They were VERY nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states – no enthusiasm!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

Those aren’t exactly statements of confidence in the FBI under Comey’s leadership.

Is Comey being unfairly hung out to dry, though? Andrew McCarthy writes this morning that the IG probe appears not to be taking into account the context of the (arguably) political choices at the Department of Justice, choices that forced Comey’s hand:

The IG’s press release makes no mention of the Justice Department’s decision not to open a grand-jury investigation, despite significant concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing – the decision that deprived the FBI of the use of subpoenas to compel the production of evidence. Neither will the IG be reviewing the multiple irregular immunity agreements granted by the Justice Department in a case in which no criminal charges were filed, including agreements that reportedly called for the destruction of evidence (laptop computers of top Clinton aides) after a strangely limited examination of their potentially incriminating contents.

There will similarly be no inquiry into why the Justice Department allowed subjects of the investigation (who had been granted immunity from prosecution) to appear as lawyers for the main subject of the investigation – despite ethical and statutory prohibitions on such conduct. Nor, evidently, will the IG be probing why the attorney general furtively met with the spouse of the main subject of the investigation – the spouse who just happens to be the president who launched the attorney general to national prominence by appointing her as a district U.S. attorney in the Nineties – on an airport tarmac just days before Mrs. Clinton submitted to a perfunctory FBI interview, after which came Comey’s announcement that charges would not be filed. …

Look for the Justice Department to have its first Republican-appointed IG in decades. Assuming that happens, we will have to see whether the review announced today proceeds as planned and whether, if it does, its scope is altered. What we do know is that there has been a stark difference between the Obama Justice Department’s kid-gloves treatment of FBI investigations touching on the Democratic presidential nominee, and the aggressive approach (including FISA warrants, as I discussed in Wednesday’s column) that DOJ took on investigations touching on the Republican presidential nominee.

What makes this all the more ironic — and intriguing, in all senses of the word — is that Comey came to the position with solid bipartisan support. His reputation was that of a non-political law-enforcement professional who would act with integrity when dealing with subordinates and superiors alike. That may be what got him into trouble, as McCarthy suggests; the political environment at the DoJ might have forced him to go public last July, which set in motion a series of consequences that inevitably led to his actions in October. Any probe that ignores that context is going to be basically worthless, and worse than that for Comey. It’s going to hang him out to dry.

If that’s the case, then perhaps we need James Comey in place more than we realize. The real question, though, is why Comey thinks he needs all of this political sturm und drang, especially with the long knives out for him on both sides of the aisle. Rather than wait for Trump’s signature “You’re fired!”, perhaps Comey will first take a page out of Eric Cartman’s repertoire.

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