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In Clinton Caper, Comey Was the Most Visible Player, Not the Most Consequential

James Comey Hillary Clinton Email

At National Review last weekend, I addressed the Democrats’ loopy claim that the FBI became a Trump partisan in the 2016 election. The claim is worth more examination in light of President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.

In Clinton World, self-absorption always triumphs over self-inspection, so nothing could be more predictable than Hillary Clinton’s scapegoating of Comey, a diversion from acknowledging what really cost her the election: her own manifest flaws. Congressional Democrats are along for the ride: those who were swooning over Comey in July when he announced that Clinton would not be charged, then ripped him in October when he reopened and quickly reclosed the FBI’s investigation, and then branded him a Trump partisan hack after the votes were counted, are suddenly back in swoon mode.

Comey, of course, hasn’t changed through all of this. He’s always been the same guy. The laughably transparent explanation for all the careening around him is politics.

Mrs. Clinton was hoping to put the e-mail scandal behind her by arguing that she had been vindicated by a thorough, highly professional FBI investigation. But she lost, so the investigation that was to be her credential for office became the downfall that denied her. Comey thus became Rationalization 1 for her defeat … at least until Rationalization 1A, Russia, got some media traction. So now, Comey has gone from villainous J. Edgar Hoover to valiant Elliot Ness again – not out of anything he did, but because Democrats calculate that framing his termination as part of a “cover-up” may resuscitate the Trump-Russia narrative, which has grown stale in the absence of concrete evidence of collusion.

Note that in all of this, Comey is always in the center of events, but he has never been in control of events. Don’t be fooled by appearances. The FBI director has been the most visible player, but he has not come close to being the most consequential.

Yes, the FBI that actually carries out the dual functions of criminal inquiry and foreign intelligence collection. In either type of investigation, it is the Bureau that performs the rubber-meets-the-road work of gathering information and analyzing it, searching for the connections that prove actions and intentions. Consequently, Director Comey has gotten top billing in this drama – a happenstance made more pronounced by the director’s very forceful personality. It has made him look more important than, in fact, he has been.

Some perspective, please. There could have been no indictment against Hillary Clinton unless the Obama Justice Department approved it. Comey headed an investigative agency; he had no authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion – to decide whether charges got filed.

In the Clinton caper, Comey ostensibly seized the Justice Department’s decision-making power. In reality, though, he exercised it within obvious limitations, and under circumstances in which his superiors factored decisively.