That haunting laugh echoing through the corridors of Washington officialdom is the sound of vindication emanating from one James B. Comey. Free from the threat of prosecution by the legal system for which he once stood, the fired former FBI director has validated the hoary adage that it’s better to be lucky than good.
Make that validated once again: Thanks to his ministrations, Hillary Clinton proved the point as well. In 2016, she dodged the dock when the Department of Justice declined to charge her for the mishandling of classified documents while secretary of State. Both forsook the good by breaking the rules binding the behavior of government officials and, as luck would have it, both escaped punishment.
In an 83-page report released Thursday, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that while leading the FBI in 2017, Mr. Comey violated bureau protocols when he memorialized his conversations with President Trump on sensitive subjects related to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. He then secreted them to a friend for the purpose of leaking them to the media and triggering the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the president.
The unrepentant Mr. Comey claimed vindication, of a sort, in the fact that he was not nailed on a charge that could have put him in prison pinstripes: “DOJ IG ‘found no evidence that Comey or his attorneys released any of the classified information contained in any of the memos to members of the media,’” he tweeted. “I don’t need a public apology from those who defamed me, but a quick message with a ‘sorry we lied about you’ would be nice.”
Not to have leaked classified material while screwing up in lesser ways is a little like a driver managing to avoid a pedestrian while speeding through a red light. The inspector general’s report took a rather dim view of the former FBI director’s actions: “By not safeguarding sensitive information obtained during the course of his FBI employment, and by using it to create public pressure for official action, Comey set a dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees — and the many thousands more former FBI employees — who similarly have access to or knowledge of non-public information,” wrote Mr. Horowitz in his summary conclusion. The details of the Comey report had earlier been turned over to the FBI and Justice Department and — surprise — as in the case of Mrs. Clinton, the powers that be decided to abstain from prosecution.
The inspector general’s investigation focused on seven memos referencing several meetings in which Mr. Comey claimed the president sought to interfere with his duties — asking the director for loyalty on one occasion and on another, urging him to drop an FBI probe of fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
Scapegoating is a favorite pastime in the nation’s capital, and it’s not uncommon for policy players to protect themselves from blame with records of their deeds when things go south. But funneling the president’s thoughts to The New York Times constitutes an epic error in judgment unbecoming for the nation’s top G-man.
In addition to breaking FBI policy by leaking the documents, Mr. Comey failed to inform the FBI on numerous occasions following his firing that he had kept his memos and disclosed them to other persons. Given his “unauthorized disclosure of sensitive law enforcement information,” as Mr. Horowitz terms Mr. Comey’s scheming, it appears that the tallest Boy Scout in Washington is not so high-minded after all.
The nation’s tale that plays out on the Washington stage is sometimes characterized by tragedy and other times by comedy. It is dramatic irony, though, that now links Mr. Comey’s story with that of Mrs. Clinton. As FBI chief, Mr. Comey laid out in 2016 all the transgressions the then-Democratic presidential candidate had chalked up in storing highly classified government secrets on an unsecure home server, then declined to charge her with a crime. Now fate has somehow returned the favor, allowing Mr. Comey to escape the consequences of similar, though perhaps less egregious, failures.
Poetic justice was the Bard of Avon’s point when composing in “King Lear”: “The wheel has come full circle.” In the scene, a villain pays for his treachery with his life. Cutting to the drama on the Potomac, an act of justice denied has been rewarded in kind. Americans are left wondering when the wheel of fortune will get back on track.
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