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The Tragedy of James Comey

I will confess something: I can very easily imagine myself as James Comey. I remember, when I worked on Wall Street, developing the reputation of being one of those guys who wouldn’t just toe the line, but actually spoke his mind if something didn’t smell right, and had to be convinced. But I could be convinced. I worked within the system as it existed, for better and for worse.

I can’t quite imagine myself making it to Comey’s level in the Justice Department, but if I imagine that I suddenly found myself there, I can easily imagine myself, like Comey, running to John Ashcroft’s bedside to bolster his commitment not to rubber-stamp a dubious grant of surveillance authority. And I can also easily imagine myself splitting hairs to give my superiors at least some of the leeway they wanted to implement a regime of torture-based interrogations. I can easily envision that mix of profiles in courage and in coyness that constitute James Comey’s record in office.

And I can imagine myself being torn apart by the situation of having to investigate possible law-breaking, including possibly covering up that law-breaking, by a major party presidential candidate in an environment of hyper-partisanship.

All of which is by way of prelude to explain my latest column at The Week [1], about the tragedy of James Comey:

If Comey was trying to put his thumb on the scales for the Republicans, he could not have done so in a more ham-handed fashion. If he was trying to stay above the partisan fray, he could not have failed more spectacularly. He will likely be remembered more as a fool than a villain, the fellow who stumbling after an intruder with his candle in the dark, lit the drapes on fire and ultimately burned the house down.

But I see Comey as a tragic figure, in the classic sense: someone undone by a flaw that is inseparable from his virtues. His fall is a sign of just how corrupted by rabid partisanship our government has become. And if we don’t do something about that, James Comey won’t be the last honorable public servant who turns himself into exactly what he was trying to keep himself from becoming.

Read the whole thing there [1].

14 Comments (Open | Close)

14 Comments To "The Tragedy of James Comey"

#1 Comment By collin On May 11, 2017 @ 11:33 am

In twenty years there are going to TV Series like the People v. OJ on Comey’s 2016 activities. And at this point we don’t know the whole script. I suspect the big two moments are:

1) His leaking the new HRC ‘e-mails’ to Jason
2) And his discussions with President Obama on announcing the Russian influence on the 2016 election. From all reports Obama decided against it with input from Ryan and McConnell.

My simple question for Comey, why did he feel it necessary to reopen the case with Congress. He had to know this would have been used in the election at the same time when Obama was not making announcements about Russian influence.

#2 Comment By William Dalton On May 11, 2017 @ 11:39 am

You say that Comey failed in making the disclosures of Clinton’s wrongdoing, and his assessment of them, which he did. But if he had done neither of those things he would be receiving blame for concealment and his record would suffer just the same. For better or for worse, Jim Comey chose to serve the public – not the political powers of either party in Washington. And for that we should be thankful.

#3 Comment By George On May 11, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

I honestly don’t see the point being made here, except that you somehow identity with James Comey.

#4 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 11, 2017 @ 1:35 pm

You write, Noah: “Could Comey have resigned last summer…it would have amounted to a declaration that the job was impossible, that, effectively, the FBI could not do its job…He proved by his actions that nobody could.”

But, is that true? Is it true that Comey “proved by his actions that nobody could” do the job of FBI Director?

Or is it rather the case that, if Comey had avoided two main errors in judgement, he would in fact have been doing his job as FBI Director?

What if James Comey had simply performed his duties in the traditional way that his new boss, Deputy Attorney-General Rosenstein, outlined. That is to say:

• What if Comey had completed his Clinton email investigation and had simply turned over his findings to the Justice Department, as his predecessors would have done, but had not called the July 5th press conference at which he made public, gratuitous remarks about the investigation and made public derogatory information about Hilary Clinton?

• What if Comey had quietly decided to open an investigation of the “newly-discovered email messages,” but had not written a sure-to-be-leaked letter to Congress on October 28th announcing his decision?

In Rosenstein’s view – and in the views of past Attorneys-General and Deputy Attorneys-General including Silberman, Gorelick, Mukasey, Gonzales, Holder, and Ayer – Comey’s actions of July 5th and October 28th constituted “mistakes,” “errors.”

If Comey had avoided his errors on those two dates, would he not have been doing his job?

Isn’t there a good argument that the FBI Director’s job, while always a challenge, is nonetheless quite do-able – just that Director Comey didn’t do it?

#5 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 11, 2017 @ 3:07 pm

“But I see Comey as a tragic figure, in the classic sense: someone undone by a flaw that is inseparable from his virtues. His fall is a sign of just how corrupted by rabid partisanship our government has become. And if we don’t do something about that, James Comey won’t be the last honorable public servant who turns himself into exactly what he was trying to keep himself from becoming.”

This is the first article you ever written which in my view nails it. Though I don’t see the dir. as tragic figure, I do believe that he was caught by a swirl of events loaded with political agendas. His only escape would have been to choose a side and forget any pretense of acting objectively and hope his side won. It’s obvious that he was trying to straddle the partisan divide. I also think his support for the russia business was more guilt laden over the Sec Clinton investigation.

But honestly what choice did have? The argument that he should have stayed mum ignores the overriding reality that it would have been leaked and he would have been accused of being complicit in a cover-up. He should have gotten out of their on his terms to avoid being saddle with the turf mess that is now Washington’s consuming passion.

And while I think this began in earnest on the toes of the Patriot Act’s implementation, I do believe that Sec Clinton, and those whose intentions are to remake the globe have invaded every manner of government. The advance of the left is determined to use every tool available to move their agenda.

The issue surrounding the FBI Dir. may be the clearest example of how deeply the political agendas have warped governance, including law enforcement. Not that politics hasn’t always been at play, but survival in the field may never be so dependent on currying political favor and opportunism than now.

#6 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 11, 2017 @ 3:10 pm

“The advance of the left is determined to use every tool available to move their agenda.”

And where left agendas nexus with those of interventionists.

Let’s be honest, Sec Clinton embodied the best of both goals.

#7 Comment By connecticut farmer On May 11, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

When Comey’s own boss had a private meeting with the spouse of one of the two major candidates for POTUS, Comey should have resigned right then and there. Period! End of story! Instead, he stayed on. To this day we still don’t know what was said or if any deals were made.

Sorry, but I have no sympathy for the guy.

#8 Comment By EngineerScotty On May 11, 2017 @ 5:28 pm

Or is it rather the case that, if Comey had avoided two main errors in judgement, he would in fact have been doing his job as FBI Director?

What if James Comey had simply performed his duties in the traditional way that his new boss, Deputy Attorney-General Rosenstein, outlined. That is to say: [deleted]

No, he wouldn’t still have a job. Trump would have fired any law enforcement professional under his authority that got too close to the Russia scandal, and some other pretext for the termination would have been found.

#9 Comment By heartlandic On May 11, 2017 @ 5:30 pm

I hope to God that Trump doesn’t replace Comey with Ray Kelly. There’s enough smelly New York stuff going on in this administration already. There ought to be a constitutional amendment specifying that only whitebread Midwesterners, preferrably born in some rural area, need apply.

#10 Comment By Ronald Pavellas On May 12, 2017 @ 8:12 am

A simple response: If Mr. Comey, at any point, felt he could not properly do his job (no matter what the source of his dilemma), he should have resigned, for the sake of his own soul. I believe him to be fundamentally a good man.

#11 Comment By Tyro On May 12, 2017 @ 8:54 am

When you are obsessed with your own rectitude, you never have the self doubt necessary to make the right decisions.

The pattern is always strict adherence to chain of command and protocol issues. So he will rush to Ashcroft’s hospital bed to head off a power grab, but he will also defer to higher ups to accede to the acceptability of torture.

He was also savvy enough to figure that Obama would never violate political norms by firing him while investigating Clinton, even as he pushed the norms envelope himself. What he wasn’t able to understand is that political norms would not protect him from Trump.

#12 Comment By EliteComInc. On May 13, 2017 @ 12:04 pm

“If Mr. Comey, at any point, felt he could not properly do his job (no matter what the source of his dilemma), he should have resigned, for the sake of his own soul.”

I think I agree with most of this. I took a look at the term rectitude. I m not convinced that was the driver, as in owning such a state. I do think he strived for that course in doing his duty. And in that sense, that is a desirable goal. To suggest otherwise implies something other than less than honest dealings and straight and narrow behavior is permissible.

No. One should be operating with a keen sense of rectitude, especially when decisions have profound impact on the lives of others. Isn’t that the complaint most have against Pres Trump — a lack of any righteousness. I tend to disagree, but in the end that is the complaint.

I would hope that the Dir. of the FBI operate with some sense of rectitude. It’s probably that he is operating in a world in which rectitude of any kind is elusive and fluid that created his problems.

He should have left on his terms.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On May 13, 2017 @ 12:08 pm

Note:

Before my 2003 issue — I had every intention of departing save for one commitment loyalty to others, including my housemate. It remains a barrier to this day.

I think AG Yates, despite being wrong, held out to some sincere sense of loyalty. Why to foreigners I am unclear, but I do get it. Wow, I really value my experiences as a facilitator, it has proved valuable beyond that service.

#14 Comment By David Giza On May 14, 2017 @ 1:31 pm

I don’t regard Comey as a tragic figure. I regard him as a corrupt public figure. The Russians didn’t influence our elections. There isn’t any evidence of it now or ever. This is a narrative that was conceived by Clinton and her cronies after she lost the election. It’s trying to undermine the Trump presidency. Why did someone that used to work for a hedge fund company become head of the FBI? If you want to talk about a tragedy, that is one right there.