During Thursday’s showdown Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, fired FBI Director James B. Comey came across as less as a fearless crusader for the truth and more as a disgruntled employee upset with the boss who unceremoniously let him go.
He deliberately shared his memos about his talks with President Trump with his friend Daniel Richman, a former FBI agent and Columbia Law School professor, explicitly hoping it would lead to the appointment of a special counsel, a ploy that succeeded brilliantly. The decision to share the sensitive memos is troubling because of Mr. Comey’s “unauthorized disclosure of privileged communications,” as Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, was quick to point out.
Strangely, Mr. Comey decided not to share that same memo with Attorney General Jeff Sessions or the acting deputy attorney general, holding his information close while waiting for the right moment to strike. He felt “defamed” by the Trump administration and took direct action against the president. This was Mr. Comey’s personal revenge after losing his job.
Liberals cheered Mr. Comey when he loosely denounced the president a liar, and revealed he began compiling the memos after their very first meeting out of concerns the president would lie about what happened.
But during the hearing, Mr. Comey repeatedly appeared unsure of himself. He reflected that he should have acted more firmly in his dealings with the president. Mr. Comey’s indecisive and self-described “cowardly” actions are now on record and further justify why the president was right to dismiss him.
Mr. Trump fared well on the legal question on the obstruction of justice. The ex-FBI chief had to admit that he was never directly ordered to end the investigation of Russia or of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Mr. Comey did feel uncomfortable meeting with the president alone, and the president’s staff should have advised him against meeting with Mr. Comey during an ongoing investigation.
Mr. Trump expects loyalty and is transparent about his actions and motives. He felt he could confide in Mr. Comey and be honest his feelings concerning Mr. Flynn, but a “hope” is not the same thing as a direct order to an FBI director to stop an investigation.
What was particularly shocking was to see Mr. Comey play by a different set of rules depending on the president he was serving. Were there memos associated with Mr. Comey’s meetings with President Obama, or with former Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch when she told Mr. Comey to describe the Hillary Clinton email probe as a “matter” rather than what it plainly was — an investigation? Why not write up memos on these private comments if he was uncomfortable with Ms. Lynch’s characterization of the Clinton probe? Yet Mr. Comey clearly distrusted Mr. Trump and began his career as a memo-writer only when Mr. Trump was heading to the White House.
Even if he missed most of his targets Thursday, Mr. Comey in his testimony still represented a needed political stress test for the president and his team. The president’s learning curve is over. Another misstep could potentially cripple this administration beyond repair.
Mr. Trump needs to understand the sensitive nature of dealing with the FBI and the intelligence community, including the need to tread carefully on issues under active legal investigation. The Comey controversy has created a dark cloud over this White House, at a time when Mr. Trump badly wants to move on to his legislative agenda.
Mr. Comey did not have the strength of character to confront the president and explain how a president should interact with a top law enforcement officer. And the president should have known better and gotten better advice from his team on how to properly interact with the FBI.
Unfortunately, the political intensity surrounding Mr. Comey is not about to end. But it will now be special counsel Robert Mueller who will be the one to decide Mr. Trump and his team’s fate — despite Mr. Comey’s failed effort to defame the president.
• Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.
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