March 22, 2017
Apology Overdue: James Comey speaks to the House
by Susan Bordo
No, I’m not referring to the apology that Donald Trump owes Barack Obama for falsely and recklessly accusing him of wiretapping Trump Tower. That apology will never come — not for want of urging from politicians and pundits, especially after yesterday’s hearing, in which both FBI director James Comey and NSA director Michael Rogers said definitively that there is “no information” to support Trump’s charge.
No, the apology I have in mind is due from Comey, whose damages to Hillary Clinton’s campaign never did—and probably never will—generate the widespread outrage that Trump’s wiretap tweet has. I’ve given up waiting for the outrage, or the apology. But at the very least, we must stop Comey from appearing to redeem himself, as he quite clearly tried to do at yesterday’s hearing.
It was both subtle and slick. First, Comey “equalized” his unprecedented July and October disclosures concerning Clinton’s emails by breaking with protocol again, this time to provide information potentially damaging to Trump: confirmation of an ongoing FBI investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election that includes “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” Such a break with the established protocol of not commenting on ongoing investigations is warranted, he explained, when it is “in the public interest.”
So even-handed of Comey! Such integrity and sober, considered judgment! The hero of the hour? Not exactly — not if you’re a Clinton supporter who has been following events closely.
On the one hand, Comey clearly meant to have us notice the parallels between his breaks with protocol regarding Trump and those regarding Clinton, which would seem to demonstrate his impartiality and overriding concern for the public interest. But on the other hand, he didn’t want those parallels to be examined too closely either, warning against “comparisons” and reminding us of the difference between closed and open investigations. He didn’t mention Clinton by name, but the implication was clear: While it was ok to ramble on in July about Clinton’s “carelessness” with her emails after he had exonerated her of criminal activity (and thus “closed” the investigation), we would get nothing out of him on anything they had discovered about Trump and Trumpworld, because that investigation was “ongoing.” And he stayed true to his word: we did get nothing, beyond the confirmation there was indeed an investigation—and had been since July.
There’s a big problem, however, with this self-justifying attempt to have it both ways. It conveniently ignores the “October surprise” in which Comey announced to Congress, just 11 days before the election, that a new cache of emails had been discovered that were seemingly “pertinent” to “the investigation.”
But wait. I thought “the investigation” was “closed.” Now, suddenly, it seemed to have been “ongoing” in October—in which case, both his earlier remarks about Clinton’s “carelessness” and his disclosure of the new emails were reckless and unwarranted (literally in the latter case, as the FBI didn’t even yet have a warrant to examine the emails). Note, too, that the disclosed information included details about who had sent the emails (Huma Abedin) and where they were found (Anthony Weiner’s laptop)—just the kind of “naming names” that Comey refused to do yesterday concerning the Trump/Russia investigation.
If we assume, on the other hand, that the email investigation was indeed closed in July (as Comey implied yesterday, contrasting it to the Russia/Trump investigation), then the information about the Abedin/Weiner emails was about a “new” investigation, and his disclosures were equally out of bounds.
Whichever way you choose to have it, Comey screwed up bigly—and undoubtedly contributed to Clinton’s loss, by keeping the specter of “untrustworthy,” “careless,” “lying” Hillary at the forefront of voters’ consciousness. Worse, he revved it up just as Trump’s numbers were falling down, down, down in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” tapes.
Indeed, far from a demonstration of Comey’s equal treatment of the Clinton/Trump investigations, yesterday gave Clinton supporters even more reason to be furious, as we learned that this past July—the very same month he was publicly smearing Clinton—the FBI was already conducting an investigation into the Trump/Russia connection. Of course, we heard nothing about that from him — I guess it wasn’t “in the public interest,” while Clinton’s “carelessness” with emails (emails that turned out, by the way, not to be properly marked as “classified” after all), or the discovery, in October, of a fresh set of emails (that turned out to be totally irrelevant) was. Odd notion of “public interest,” at the very least.
I got really tired of watching them all bow and scrape and genuflect to Comey’s graciousness and love of country during the hearing yesterday. I seethe recalling how viciously and disrespectfully the GOP treated Clinton during the Benghazi and email hearings. I’ll scream if I hear one more politician say that “the past is past” and that no one wants to “re-litigate” the election. Hell, I do! Perhaps it’s too late to change things; but don’t we at least want to know the facts, to get to the bottom of things?
Perhaps Comey is a man of integrity—I honestly find him pretty undecipherable—who simply didn’t exercise good judgment in July and October, and now is trying to restore his credibility. Perhaps, despite his towering presence, he has been vulnerable to political pressure. I don’t know. I do know he owes Hillary Clinton an apology. I also suspect that he may, in his own way, be just as self-justifying as Trump, and that she will never get one.
Susan Bordo is a critic and cultural historian, and holds the Otis A. Singletary Chair in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, where she teaches in the department of Gender and Women’s Studies. She has written many books, including The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England’s Most Notorious Queen. Her latest is The Destruction of Hillary Clinton, out now in paperback from Melville House.