FBI Director James Comey is not afraid to disagree with his superiors; nor is he afraid to play hardball with the facts. Both of these points make his actions on Tuesday – holding a press conference to publicly lay out the results of the FBI’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s misuse of private e-mail servers for confidential and top secret communications before absolving Ms. Clinton of wrongdoing – highly perplexing but for one single fact: Comey has never been afraid to play hardball except when it comes to the Clinton family.
Just days after Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Director Comey’s boss, clandestinely met with former President Bill Clinton at an airport in Phoenix, Arizona, Comey explained in great detail that although a thorough FBI investigation found that then-Secretary of State Clinton had mishandled classified information, no reasonable prosecutor would review the bureau’s findings and file charges or seek an indictment. The confidence with which Comey pronounced his judgment of “nothing illegal here” was unreserved.
Comey hasn’t always been so confident of the innocence of prominent figures.
Earlier this year, Time.com pointed out that this isn’t Comey’s first dance with the Clintons. In the final hours of his presidency, President Bill Clinton pardoned some 176 criminals, including some who were tied to Clinton presidential library donations and contributions to Hillary’s New York-based U.S. Senate race. A write-up in POLITICO this past January detailed new information about the pardons and what they involved, including how they touched Hillary Clinton. Comey, then a federal prosecutor, was tasked with taking over the investigation into the last minute pardons.
Despite telling Congress that he “was stunned,” by what he found, Comey filed no charges and sought no indictment.
But while serving as Deputy Attorney General of the United States during the George W. Bush administration, Comey threatened to resign over a phone and internet meta-data collection program that some administration lawyers wanted to green light. Refusing to give his assent to one portion of the so-called “Stellar Wind” program run by the National Security Agency, Comey clashed with then-White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzalez, who would eventually be appointed Attorney General by President Bush.
The data collection program was suspended until advocates could find another legal ground on which they could justify its scope and scale.
According to Time.com, a few years later Comey agreed with Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to make details of the secret program, and specifically the dramatic lengths to which he opposed it, public. The move allegedly led to Gonzalez resigning as Attorney General amid other pressures.
“The hearing was designed to force Gonzales out, and ultimately it worked. Comey’s testimony led to the discovery by White House lawyers that Gonzales had improperly stored classified notes on Stellar Wind, which in turn led to his resignation that August, according to top Bush White House officials.”
Fast forward to the most recent high profile episode of Comey’s career, and instead of speaking truth to power or using facts to make his case and carefully out-maneuver powerful individuals, the FBI director ticked off a laundry list of astonishing facts before pre-emptively clearing his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, from having to explain why her department refuses to file charges against the Democratic nominee for president.
Even the far-left online magazine of skepticism, The Intercept, thought Comey’s kabuki dance around the facts was remarkable and likely due to the powerful position held by the subject of the probe. “This extreme, unforgiving, unreasonable, excessive posture toward classified information came to an instant halt in Washington today — just in time to save Hillary Clinton’s presidential aspirations,” wrote Glenn Greenwald.
Indeed, Comey threw the book at home decor mogul Martha Stewart whom he successfully prosecuted for illegal insider trading. According to 2013 U.S. News story, Comey decided he had to prosecute Stewart despite her public persona because any other person would have faced prosecution for the same actions.
“[I]f it was Jane Doe she would have been prosecuted,” [Comey] told the student newspaper. “[T]here were 2,000 cases by the Justice Department that year for providing false statements during an investigation. I thought of my hesitation about the case due to someone being rich and famous, and how it shouldn’t be that way. I decided we had to do it.”
Remarkable words from a man who would go on to conclude that while Hillary Clinton repeatedly violated the law while mishandling known classified and top secret information, using private e-mail servers to circumvent secure government servers, nothing she did would merit prosecution by a “reasonable” prosecutor. As the Wall Street Journal editorial board opined late Tuesday:
It is a felony for anyone entrusted with lawful possession of information relating to national defense to permit it, through “gross negligence,” to be removed from its proper place of custody and disclosed. “Gross negligence” rather than purposeful conduct is enough. Yet Mr. Comey appears to have based his recommendation not to prosecute on the absence of “clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information”—though he did say in the same sentence that there was “evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Comey’s sudden fear of the facts would appear to have more to do with the subject of his bureau’s latest investigation than it would with any facts that were unearthed during the course of the probe.