Yesterday, my colleague Susan Wright covered the House Judiciary
roast testimony of FBI Director James Comey. As she said, watching Trey Gowdy in action is always a thing of beauty.
One of the more amusing incidents in the hearing came when Comey tried to play the “offended dignity card” to deflect a lot of very specific criticism of the way the investigation was managed:
“You can call us wrong, but don’t call us weasels. We are not weasels,” Comey declared Wednesday at a House Judiciary Committee hearing. “We are honest people and … whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you want it to be done.”
The normally stoic FBI chief grew emotional and emphatic as he rejected claims from Republican lawmakers that the FBI was essentially in the tank for Clinton when it recommended that neither she nor any of her aides be prosecuted in connection with the presence of classified information on Clinton’s private email server. He acknowledged he has “no patience” for such allegations.
“I knew there were going to be all kinds of rocks thrown, but this organization and the people who did this are honest, independent people. We do not carry water for one side or the other. That’s hard for people to see because so much of our country, we see things through sides,” Comey said. “We are not on anybody’s side.”
I think Comey is right. Calling him a weasel is a disgrace to upstanding, hardworking weasels everywhere. What Comey pulled off was the investigative equivalent of hitting the canvas after a “phantom punch.” For instance:
GOP lawmakers focused in particular on the Justice Department’s decision to give a form of immunity to Clinton lawyers Cheryl Mills and Heather Samuelson to obtain computers containing emails related to the case.
“Laptops don’t go to the Bureau of Prisons,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said. “The immunity was not for the laptop, it was for Cheryl Mills.”
The FBI director repeated an explanation he gave for the first time at a Senate hearing Tuesday, that the deal to get the laptops was wise because subpoenaing computers from an attorney would be complex and time consuming.
“Anytime you know you’re subpoenaing a laptop from a lawyer that involved a lawyer’s practice of law, you know you’re getting into a big megillah,” Comey said.
Huh? Lawyers are frequently caught up in investigations and there are well established procedures to force compliance with subpoenas that don’t trammel upon lawyer-client confidentiality. In fact, there is ample precedent for disqualifying a lawyer from representing a client if there is reason to believe they are part of a criminal act. The fact that the laptops in question were known to contain classified information that neither Mills nor Samuelson were authorized to possess apparently was never considered.
“I don’t think there’s any reasonable prosecutor out there who would have allowed two immunized witnesses central to the prosecution and proving the case against her to sit in the room with the FBI interview of the subject of that investigation,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), a former U.S. attorney. He said those circumstances signaled that the decision not to prosecute Clinton was already made when she sat down for the interview.
“If colleagues of ours believe I am lying about when I made this decision, please urge them to contact me privately so we can have a conversation about this,” Comey said. “The decision was made after that because I didn’t know what was going to happen during the interview. She would maybe lie in the interview in a way we could prove.”
Comey also said it wasn’t the FBI’s role to dictate who could or couldn’t act as Clinton’s lawyers. “I would also urge you to tell me what tools we have as prosecutors and investigators to kick out of the interview someone that the subject says is their lawyer,” the FBI chief said, while acknowledging he’d never encountered such a situation before.
This is gibberish. If Mills and Samuelson hadn’t been immunized and their roles in handling TOP SECRET/CODE WORD information been under scrutiny it would have been fairly easy to exclude them from Hillary Clinton’s interview. At this point the only mystery is why Comey didn’t allow Hillary Clinton to act as the attorney for Mills and Samuelson. Comey obviously treated Clinton and her entire entourage with kid gloves. Brian Pagliano, the political go-fer turned IT guru who managed Clinton’s private server, was given an immunity agreement that allows him to NOT cooperate with other federal investigations. So if the NSA wants to do an damage assessment of the exposure of classified information on Clinton’s server, Pagliano is under no legal obligation to assist them.
No one will deny that Comey was in the unenviable position of possibly recommending the indictment of a candidate for president nominated by a major party. But if he couldn’t handle that kind of pressure he should have resigned.