Let’s assume FBI director James Comey did not set out to prove Donald Trump’s thesis about a “rigged” system. But had it been, he could not have done more to make the case than the astonishing zigzag pattern of decisions on the Hillary Clinton email case he has given us during the past six months. No matter where you stand on the presidential race, yesterday’s “never mind” letter to Congress about the discovery of more emails on Anthony Weiner’s computer casts doubt on Comey’s judgment and the probity of the entire investigation. After this fiasco, it’s hard to imagine Comey continuing in office through the rest of the seven years left in his term in office under either Clinton or Trump.
More important, the leaks from the Bureau and the tension between it and the Justice Department over the email case have been an object lesson in why so many Americans no longer believe in their government. Clinton critics still have good reason to question Comey’s decision not to ask the Justice Department to prosecute the former secretary of state over her “extremely careless” handling of classified material. Fast-forward to late October; it was the Democrats’ turn to cry foul when Comey decided that the discovery of more emails required him to inform Congress that the investigation was being re-opened. The letter was an unprecedented October surprise that seemed motivated more about Comey worrying he’d be accused of a cover-up than anything else.
The last twist in the “Comey primary,” as Charles Krauthammer dubbed it, came yesterday when he again wrote Congress to say the new emails weren’t relevant to the Clinton case. That may well be true, but if there really were hundreds of thousands of them to go through, it seems odd that the bureau was able to come to a conclusion about them so quickly. That’s especially curious because of the length of time it took the FBI to conduct its original investigation. The painfully obvious conclusion most observers were forced to draw was that pressure on Comey from the Justice Department forced him to try and erase the impact of his previous statement on a presidential race that had tightened in large measure because of his actions.
None of this gets rid of the legal cloud that hangs over Clinton’s head due to the unanswered questions about the emails —questions that will remain so long as the tens of thousands she had deleted after they were subpoenaed remain lost. The “Clinton Cash” scandals are not solved and will continue to tempt Republicans into investigations—and fuel conspiracy theories. But who will ever again place implicit trust in the FBI and the Justice Department to provide an impartial probe of these and other political scandals against other Democrats or Republicans that will inevitably arise in the coming years?
After Comey’s absurd flip-flops, the damage to the FBI’s reputation has left a bad taste in the mouths of Americans on both sides of the political aisle. It will take more than Comey’s resignation—which ought to be forthcoming before the next president takes office—to make that right.