Former FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday cited his own prosecution of Martha Stewart to stress the importance of prosecuting people for process crimes where there is no underlying crime.
Comey’s defense of the controversial prosecution came during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour as he questioned Attorney General William Barr’s decision not to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice.
“The attorney general’s letter doesn’t make sense in light of my experience,” Comey said. “Thousands of people are prosecuted in this country every year for trying to obstruct an investigation where the underlying thing that was being investigated doesn’t end up proven.”
As an example we can all rally behind, he brought up the criminal charges he brought against the popular domestic goddess in the early 2000s.
“People obstruct to avoid embarrassment, to protect family and friends, to protect businesses, because they’re worried the investigators might find something out,” Comey explained.
“Martha Stewart went to jail for lying about an investigation,” he continued. “She wasn’t convicted of insider trading. Bringing those kind of obstruction cases are really important, because you’d create an incentive to obstruct (if you didn’t).”
Commenting on AG Barr not charging Trump w/ obstruction, James @Comey invokes his own prosecution of @MarthaStewart — widely viewed as an abuse of prosecutorial power — to argue in favor of charging people with process crimes even if there’s no underlying crime. pic.twitter.com/9KH4p6kT3w
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) April 2, 2019
Comey, the federal prosecutor behind the Stewart case, said he went after Stewart “not because of who she is but because of what she did.” However, as the Cato Institute’s Gene Healy noted in 2004, he didn’t charge her with insider trading, the underlying crime:
Instead, he claimed that Stewart’s public protestations of innocence were designed to prop up the stock price of her own company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, and thus constituted securities fraud. Stewart was also charged with making false statements to federal officials investigating the insider trading charge — a charge they never pursued. In essence, Stewart was prosecuted for “having misled people by denying having committed a crime with which she was not charged,” as Cato Institute Senior Fellow Alan Reynolds put it.
For that, then 63-year old Martha Stewart wasted five months of her life in federal prison.
Comey in his interview with Amanpour called such cases “important,” but in 2004, the New York Times spoke for most when it declared Stewart’s prosecution was “vindictive.”
Moreover, it was just one of many such cases, as The Federalist‘s Mollie Hemingway noted in June of 2017: “From Martha Stewart to Frank Quattrone to Steven Hatfill, former FBI director James Comey has left a long trail of highly questionable obstruction of justice cases that he used to make a name for himself,” wrote Hemingway.
“Highly questionable” indeed—and nothing to be proud of.