If anyone was standing in the way of the FBI doing its job and getting to the bottom of what Russia did or didn’t do, and with whom, it was James Comey. Just hours before Comey’s termination, the Justice Department delivered subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, CNN reported.
The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
The problem wasn’t that the FBI itself was incompetent. It was that the organization found itself hamstrung by its own director’s conflicting and capricious statements to Congress. It is not the job of the nation’s top law enforcement official to entwine both himself and the bureau he heads into political imbroglios of enormous import, but since last July, that’s exactly what Comey has done.
Regardless of your personal opinion of why President Trump fired Comey–was it misstatements on the Hillary Clinton/Huma Abedin/Anthony Weiner email investigation, or Russia–the now-former director improperly inserted himself and damaged his agency’s reputation as a fair arbiter and criminal investigator.
Congress had to pick up the pieces of the FBI’s tattered reputation, which resulted in even less progress and more confusion. Even Republicans like Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, had his doubts about the timing of Comey’s dismissal.
— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) May 9, 2017
But with all due respect to Sen. Burr, the FBI should have been leading this investigation all along, without all the political baggage and fanfare Comey invited. Trump tweeted in response.
Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
I doubt Democrats will publicly thank Trump for anything, even if its things they themselves wanted. But Trump is correct that Comey lost the confidence of the public, never mind people in Washington, D.C.
The moment he went political on July 5, and held that fateful press conference where our worst fears of political collusion were confirmed, Comey compromised himself and the FBI. It only got worse from there.
With Comey at the helm, we may have never gotten to the bottom of the Flynn/Russia connection or how the Russians sought to use leverage to influence American politics, because Comey became part of that political hairball. I don’t think it’s any surprise the DOJ waited until Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation to fire Comey was on Trump’s desk and accepted before going ahead with the subpoenas.
Remember that Sessions has recused himself from the Russia investigation. His deputy, Rosenstein acidly observed in the letter:
“The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the F.B.I. had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors.”
It was, of course, political pressure by then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch that prompted Comey’s overstepping. At worst, one could speculate the Comey had his finger in the political winds the whole time–first believing Clinton would win, then in the last week before the election, swinging over to Trump’s side to hedge his bet.
Rosenstein blasted Comey:
“Concerning his letter to the Congress on October 28, 2016, the Director cast his decision as a choice between whether he would ‘speak’ about the decision to investigate the newly-discovered email messages or ‘conceal’ it. ‘Conceal’ is a loaded term that misstates the issue. When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.”
Now with Comey out of the way, perhaps the FBI can go back to doing what it does best. That is, quietly, efficiently and comprehensively investigating crimes without political intrigue, and keeping foreign plots to harm American interests at bay.