Who Will Police the Police: The Comey Testimonies

Former FBI Director James Comey earnestly lectures about the inaccuracy of leaks and laments that it is not the purview of disinterested federal agencies to correct such erroneous information that the press such as the New York Times recklessly publishes.

Fine. Yet for the last six months, information in the hands of the FBI, such as the infamous Steele fake-news dossier, a hit piece of opposition research, was leaked by intelligence agencies to the press for political advantage. Comey mirabile dictu himself confesses to planting leaked information to the press of a privileged conversation with the President, via a third-party friend—information that he composed while the Director of the FBI on government time in connection with his job and on a government computer.

In the age of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, why would a former Director of the FBI himself leak a key government document to the press in deliberate fashion to undermine the president (and in the process mislead about the chronological sequencing of events that prompted him to leak) rather than provide the memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee? Why would he use a third-party to go to the press?


Comey corroborates his earlier thrice-stated admissions that Donald Trump was never under investigation for collusion with the Russians to subvert the 2016 election, but suggests now that he could not release such exonerating information to the press because he might later have had to go back to amend it should Trump at some such future time become under investigation.

This is an Orwellian argument—given:

(1) that it is becoming clear that almost all scurrilous rumors about Donald Trump were leaked to the press by the FBI and other federal agencies—while exculpatory facts, such as that Comey was not investigating Donald Trump, were not leaked;

(2) that Comey had in fact previously repeatedly done just the opposite of what he said he could not do in the Trump case—namely that he had first disclosed publicly that Hillary Clinton was no longer the subject of a “matter” (in obedience to Loretta Lynch’s mandatory euphemism aimed at helping the Clinton campaign), then later amended that public admission by saying that she was, in fact, again under renewed investigation, and then amending again that amendment by stating that she was no longer a subject of an investigation. In other words, there was no such FBI policy of prudently keeping silent on the progress of an investigation;

3) that any American citizen in theory could be a future target of any theoretical investigation; but, of course, that fact is no reason for a federal agency to fail to concede that it is not conducting an ongoing federal investigation of said citizen being battered by press leaks and unfounded allegations—unless the aim of a federal agency was to spread doubt about its intentions and thereby cast a prejudicial cloud of suspicion over an individual not under investigation. In Comey’s world, we can all live under a cloud of future investigations, should a mum FBI wink and nod, bob and weave to the press and public about whether we are currently under an investigation—as we are libeled and smeared.

He Said/He Said

Comey states that he was so concerned about a private conversation with Donald Trump (whom he admits once again was not pressuring him to stop a federal investigation of purported Russian collusion) that he immediately went to his government car to write a memo based on his interpretation of the conversation (again, subsequently to be leaked to pet journalists through a third-party friend and as yet strangely not made public). But was this standard Comey practice after meeting with administration officials whom he suspected might be inordinately pressuring him on investigations?

If so, did Comey write a memo after a private meeting with former Attorney General Loretta Lynch when, he now recollects, she quite unambiguously pressured him not to state publicly that he was conducting an ongoing “investigation” of Hillary Clinton, when in fact he was doing just that—a direct order much stronger (especially given the current election cycle) than the clumsy suggestions of Trump that Flynn was a ‘good guy’ and thus his character should be considered in assessing and perhaps mitigating his conduct. Left unsaid is why Comey earlier buckled under Lynch’s alleged order, but not under Trump’s later purported pressure. (Was Lynch more the bully than Trump?) And does an FBI Director adjust his behavior on the basis of whether he—an investigator rather than a legislator or president—decides that a special prosecutor is or is not needed?

Eminently Fireable

Comey states that he was fired for resisting subtle pressures to massage the Russian investigations. But this assertion again makes little sense because earlier Comey had stated that Trump himself was not under investigation, and, second, that his investigation so far had found no evidence that the Russians, always eager to disrupt American democracy, hand-in-glove with Trump affected the outcome of the election or were working with Trump to subvert the election—facts seemingly supported at times by both anti-Trumpers John Brennan (“I don’t know whether or not such collusion—and that’s your term, such collusion existed. I don’t know.”) and James Clapper (“as I’ve said before—I’ve testified to this effect—I saw no direct evidence of political collusion between the campaign and—the Trump campaign and the Russians.”).

In truth, Trump was playing a mongoose and cobra game with Comey the minute he was elected, given his observations of the Director’s erratic behavior during the 2016 campaign—now wishing him gone, now perhaps afraid to remove him, given the power of the deep state (NB the surprising continuance of IRS officials involved in the Lerner fiasco for an example of Trump’s wariness about the power of unelected bureaucrats). Had Trump earlier said that he feared Comey might take notes during a private conservation and then leak them to the press, the media would have cited that as proof of presidential paranoia. In sum, Trump fired Comey because he knew that he allowed the FBI to leak untrue allegations about collusion, while privately he was assuring his new boss that he was not under investigation.

Comey’s entire testimony is ipso facto evidence why in fact he was fired—and why any president would fire such an unstable and mercurial subordinate:

The Zeal to Do Nothing

Comey says he interpreted Trump’s blunt talk about loyalty and Flynn etc. as insidious efforts to intrude improperly into his overall Russian investigations. But if true, Comey then apparently never took Trump’s clumsy subversive efforts very seriously at all: Comey subsequently neither quashed the investigation concerning Flynn’s veracity (confirmed by his deputy) nor reprimanded Trump for his supposedly obstructive order nor notified the Attorney General or his deputies that he was asked to do something that might well constitute an obstruction of justice—as he was legally bound to do in such compromising situations (but expressed confusion over just that responsibility in the hearings). And again Comey was experienced in such matters, because in obsequious fashion, he earlier may well have complied with what an interfering Loretta Lynch ordered him to do.

Bullying is Not a Crime

Trump, no doubt, according to Comey’s “memorization,” appears to be the consummate Manhattan real-estate wheeler dealer engaging in flattery and subtle bullying without worry over nuance, optics, or presidential discretion and protocols. If Comey is telling the truth about Trump, his unguarded remarks do not descend to the level of some of the transcripts that attest to the earthiness of Lyndon Johnson, the twisted logic of Richard Nixon, or the reported vulgarity of Bill Clinton on the golf course—and certainly not on a level of impropriety of Barack Obama’s assurances in October 2015, in the midst of an ongoing FBI investigation,  that candidate Clinton’s private email server and trafficking in classified documents were “not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”

But aside from the fact that Comey’s characterizations are unsubstantiated versions of one-party to a two-party conversation (a point forgotten by a rabid press), Trump’s reported bluntness hardly ranks as indictable, much less impeachable, behavior—at least according to the low bar of exemption seen during the past two years of the Obama administration: an FBI Director leaking a government document to the press for careerist reasons, a former president meeting with an Attorney General stealthily during an ongoing investigation of his spouse; an Attorney General persuading a FBI director to contextualize an ongoing investigation in a fashion that would help a current presidential candidate of her party, a sitting Secretary of State illegally establishing a private server and communicating classified information over it.

A Colossal Waste of Time

We are left with the three lessons from this sorry year-long episode.

One, the Russian collusion story after nearly a year of strategic leaks, investigations, and yellow-journalism rumors has proved a fable—yet an extremely valuable fable for Democrats in their ongoing efforts to drive down Trump’s ratings, turn attention away from the reasons for their 2016 defeat and party anemia, and stall signature Republican bills on health care and tax reform—all in hopes of winning the House in 2018 or at least peeling away frightened Republican representatives of districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 in order to calcify the Congress. And that is the positive take on the Russian mythology, given the more likely aim is the removal of Donald Trump from office by invoking the 25th Amendment, impeachment, or some other means.

Two, almost all federal bureaucrats like Comey, Clapper, and Brennan were expecting a Clinton victory and envisioned it as a probable guarantee for the extensions of their own long bipartisan tenures and so were ready once again to recalibrate their well-known past political adjustments (especially the gymnastic Brennan). So some in Comey’s FBI leaked fake news stories about a Trump investigation when it was likely that Hillary would be elected. Then after the election, a flexible Comey assured Trump (but only privately) that he was not under investigation when he was worried about his continued tenure as Director—but, of course, with Comey’s unspoken assumption that there might continue leaks given that the mercurial Trump himself might not be around to finish his term.

During the transition many of these beltway careerists apparently entertained vain hopes that they still might charm or triangulate their way into the new Trump administration, which explains their often erratic passive-aggressive behavior, more consistent with politicos than that of public servants.

Three, the fables of Russian-Trump collusion—like the earlier Jill Stein effort to subvert the electors, the fake-news of rigged voting machines, the Steele dossier, the serial demonization of the week (Bannon the fascist, Flynn the traitor, Sessions the conniver, Jared the wheeler-dealer crook, Ivanka the peddler, Melania the illegal alien and estranged First Lady, Nunes the partisan naïf, etc.)—were all tropes to derail the Trump agenda that so far could not be derailed by the Congress, the media, street theater, or the courts.

More importantly, these distractions were aimed at burying amid hysteria a true scandal that is far more likely to have occurred and far more dangerous to the republic in its implications: the reverse targeted surveillance of the political opponents of the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton in 2016, the improper unmasking of their names, and the leaking of such information to an enabling press—all of which provided the basis for much of the fake-news stories of the last eleven months.

The larger story is that under the Obama administration, zealots believed that their noble ends occasionally justified improper and illegal means and were assured that an “echo chamber” toady press shared their same objectives and methodologies. The result was the corruption of the IRS, the illegal surveillance of journalists, rank deceptions about everything from the ACA to Benghazi—the proper perquisites for the finale of surveilling, unmasking, and leaking classified information about their perceived opponents. Note well that, after the Comey hearing, the New York Times now claims it cannot find the unnamed sources for its original February 2016 story that Trump people were under investigation. Were those unnamed sources the same as those now currently under subpoena by the House Intelligence Committee for surveilling, leaking, and unmasking and thus wisely unavailable for a second round of improper activity? Comey adroitly steered away from the New York Times February 2017 report during the hearings, as if to wink and nod that he played no part in what he must have known was likely illegal activity by Obama administration officials—and likely to prompt investigations of far more than those currently subpoenaed.

Finally, in the Left’s own low-bar grounds for impeachment, what presidential abuses would they believe would qualify for presidential removal?

Did Trump use intelligence agencies to surveil and unmask political enemies?

Did he use the Justice Department to monitor and surveil Associated Press reporters?

Did he politicize the IRS to go after perceived political enemies?

In secret did he dismantle anti-terrorism investigations to further efforts to negotiate a treaty with Iran that would bypass the Senate’s constitutional prerogatives?

Did he encourage cities to nullify federal law, while for political purposes failing to enforce federal immigration statutes?

In sum, we are now in revolutionary times.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.