A few days ago, I posted on a Washington Post story headlined The guy who predicted Comey’s memos thinks Comey may be trying to take down Trump. (I’m spelling out the WaPo headline because all manner of NeverTrumpers have claimed that I made up the inference in the story.) The picture painted of James Comey is actually a pretty ugly one. Former Justice Department communications director Matt Miller, a long time Comey associate, describes a man with a Messiah complex. He is convinced of his own righteousness, his only loyalty is to his public image, and he will lay in wait for the opportunity to sandbag someone who he perceives has wronged him.
Miller gives as a “for instance” the case of the Bush administration’s decision to make terrorists uncomfortable during interrogation. Comey disagreed but was overruled.
MILLER: There’s one involving Comey that I actually had in mind when I sent that tweet last week. In 2005, the Bush administration was authorizing — or reauthorizing — waterboarding and other torture tactics. And Comey had signed off on it as a deputy attorney general. But in addition to signing off on it, he had a meeting with Attorney General [Alberto R.] Gonzales and laid out why he thought it was a bad idea for the government to torture people and how it would make the government look bad and call into question the credibility of everyone involved. And not only did he have the meeting, but he memorialized it in a meeting with his chief of staff, where he said exactly what he had laid out to the attorney general.
We know this because in 2009, when the Office of Professional Responsibility at the DOJ was investigating this issue and the New York Times wrote a story about it, magically Comey’s email to his chief of staff appeared in that story — and made its way to OPR. I was at DOJ at the time, and what it told me was Comey had the presence of mind to write the email in the first place, print a copy of it when he left the department, sit on it for four years and be ready to give it to a reporter when someone questioned why he had signed off on torture [my italics]. … I remember watching it and thinking, “This is very instructive of how Comey operates inside a bureaucracy.”
Now we see Comey beginning to undermine Rod Rosenstein behind the scenes. What follows is not speculation, it is a record of a conversation Comey had with a friend and ally Benjamin Wittes writing at Lawfare Blog:
[Comey] said one other thing that day that, in retrospect, stands out in my memory: he expressed wariness about the then-still-unconfirmed deputy attorney general nominee, Rod Rosenstein. This surprised me because I had always thought well of Rosenstein and had mentioned his impending confirmation as a good thing. But Comey did not seem enthusiastic. The DOJ does need Senate-confirmed leadership, he agreed, noting that Dana Boente had done a fine job as acting deputy but that having confirmed people to make important decisions was critical. And he agreed with me that Rosenstein had a good reputation as a solid career guy.
That said, his reservations were palpable. “Rod is a survivor,” he said. And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises. “So I have concerns.”
In retrospect, I think I know what Comey must have been thinking at that moment. He had been asked to pledge loyalty by Trump. When he had declined, and even before, he had seen repeated efforts to—from his point of view—undermine his independence and probe the FBI’s defenses against political interference. He had been asked to drop an investigation. He had spent the last few months working to defend the normative lines that protect the FBI from the White House. And he had felt the need personally to make clear to the President that there were questions he couldn’t ask about investigative matters. So he was asking himself, I suspect: What loyalty oath had Rosenstein been asked to swear, and what happened at whatever dinner that request took place?
This says much more about Comey than it does about Rosenstein. He alone is virtuous. He alone is the selfless servant of the republic. He alone has integrity. Rosenstein, on the other hand, has “survived” across administrations (US Attorney for Maryland under Bush, retained by Obama, retained by Trump) and therefore is not the apolitical civil servant that is the goal but rather he is suspect. And it speaks also to the “loyalty” question. There is an old saying that an ounce of loyalty is worth a pound of cleverness. So long as what you are being asked or told to do is not immoral, illegal, or unethical there is no compromise involved in subordinating your own wishes and desires and doing the job you are being paid to do–that is what adults in the real world do every day. If you can’t give your boss that trust, that loyalty, you need to walk away from the job.
Comey was and is out for himself. If Rosenstein’s assessment of Comey is accurate… and I have yet to find anyone with a shred of credibility who actually disagrees with his letter… then Comey compromised his office and his agency for personal, though non-partisan, gain. The only way this verdict becomes questionable is if Rosenstein is shown to be compromised and has signed some secret loyalty oath with Trump. Expect to see a lot more of this as the Russia probe limps forward.
All my stories of undaunted moral courage start with physically hiding from my adversaries in a style reminiscent of a Vaudeville sketch.
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) May 19, 2017