August 30, 2019

IG Office Releases Report on Comey

Happy Labor Day weekend! Assuming there isn’t a revolution in the next few days, we’ll be back in full swing Wednesday morning. Pro tip if you’re visiting family: mentioning The Flip Side is a great way to defuse tense political debates! ;)

Former FBI Director James Comey violated FBI policies in his handling of memos documenting private conversations with President Donald Trump, the Justice Department’s inspector general said Thursday. The watchdog office said Comey broke bureau rules by giving one memo containing unclassified information to a friend with instructions to share the contents with a reporter. Comey also failed to return his memos to the FBI after he was dismissed in May 2017, retaining copies of some of them in a safe at home, and shared them with his personal lawyers without permission from the FBI, the report said.” AP News

Read the full report here. Department of Justice

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From the Left

The left argues that while the report does not paint Comey in the best light, extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures.

“Trump accused Comey of breaking the law. He tweeted: ‘James Comey leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media. That is so illegal!’… The problem is that [the accusation] was false… [The] report reiterates that DOJ declined prosecution — which by Trump’s own standards is an exoneration. The DOJ could not find that Comey broke the law… The headlines will dutifully report Horowitz’s finding that Comey didn’t get sign off under DOJ rules… It would be even better if the media, which received the Comey documents and wrote stories critical to educating the public about Trump’s obstruction, reminds readers of the context for Comey’s actions.”
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

“The problem with the report is that it gives almost no weight to the context in which Comey acted, a failing Horowitz aggravates with his hall-monitor rectitude. Because the context was extraordinary. When a president summons the FBI director to demand loyalty, and then urges the director during a second conversation to drop a criminal investigation against an ally, we are not in the normal territory of FBI rules and procedures… Horowitz argues that Comey could have served his purposes by leaving the memos at the FBI but then making vague public statements about his belief they should lead to the appointment of a special counsel. That scenario seems unlikely and, in any case, not Horowitz’s bailiwick. Had Comey stayed on the straight and narrow path as Horowitz insisted he should have, there is a real possibility that the public would still not have seen the memos.”
Harry Litman, Washington Post

What should the former FBI director do if he thinks the president is executing a corrupt cover-up?… Horowitz mentions that Comey could have disclosed the information to the inspector general’s office, to the DOJ or FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, to the FBI Inspections Division, or to Congress. He also could have urged the appointment of a special counsel publicly without leaking ‘law enforcement information’... In other words: He should have gone through the proper channels. Comey, however, says he didn’t do this because he no longer trusted the Justice Department’s leadership under Trump…

“The key long-running disagreement between Comey and Horowitz is whether unusual circumstances warrant unusual methods — or whether, in unusual circumstances, it’s even more important to rigorously stick to the ordinary rules and procedures… Say what you will about Horowitz’s viewpoint, but at least it’s consistent. He doesn’t think Comey should have colored outside the lines in the Clinton case, and he doesn’t think Comey should have colored outside the lines regarding Trump.”
Andrew Prokop, Vox

“An inspector general says the former FBI director won’t be prosecuted, but scolds him harshly for his handling of documents. Hillary Clinton can probably relate… With the question of a criminal prosecution resolved, what leaps from the OIG report is the parallel between Comey’s press conference about Clinton and his decision about the memos. In both cases, Comey violated procedures and policies in pursuit of what he believed was a larger imperative, concluding that his own judgment was more useful for protecting the Justice Department and the FBI… the parallel between the two situations, and Comey’s spurn-the-institution-to-save-it approach, is too remarkable to be ignored, and history offers strong reasons that it’s dangerous for FBI directors to freelance, placing their personal judgment over standing policy.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“Comey was wrong to write a memo for the express purpose of leaking it to trigger a special counsel investigation. Trump was wrong in his years-long assertion that Comey had leaked classified materials and should be jailed. Neither were entirely in the right. Nor was either entirely wrong about the other.”
Chris Cillizza, CNN

“Trump’s defenders will say this evidence is all circumstantial. But circumstantial evidence is not weak evidence: it’s simply evidence based on the circumstances in which an act of wrongdoing is committed — such as the license plate of a car that speeds away from a bank just after that bank is robbed. Criminals are convicted on such evidence all the time. They will also say that there’s no explicit quid pro quo proposal here. But… ‘even when a corrupt deal is struck implicitly, the government can still prosecute extortion on a quid pro quo basis. Circumstantial evidence can be enough to prove a criminal exchange.’…

“In the absence of an explicit quid pro quo over restarting aid, the context and circumstances are what will become the focus of the investigation. There is enough here to support impeachment. Whether it is also enough to convince Republicans and lead to removal is another matter.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right condemns Comey’s behavior, arguing that it is entirely unacceptable for one of the nation’s top law enforcement officers to disregard the rules.

From the Right

The right condemns Comey’s behavior, arguing that it is entirely unacceptable for one of the nation’s top law enforcement officers to disregard the rules.

“Mr. Comey thought he was above the rules because he wanted to save the country from Mr. Trump. No doubt J. Edgar Hoover felt a similar afflatus as he wiretapped Martin Luther King… This was only the first IG report, and we’ll learn more when he reports soon on Mr. Comey’s role in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants taken out on a former Trump campaign adviser. Even without prosecution, the American public is finally getting an honest account of the real James Comey, an FBI director so in awe of his own righteousness that he believed none of the rules applied to him.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Comey knew the rules, knew the regulations, knew the law, and swore an oath to uphold them. But when push came to shove, Comey felt that he could break those rules, because he convinced himself that his own particular violation of the regulations served the greater good. Of course, this is what almost every leaker believes

“Quite a few criminals believe they’re breaking the law for good reasons. They’re committing fraud against an insurance company that they believe is greedy and unjust. What the law calls insider trading just means being well-informed. What they told the IRS is close enough to the truth about their actual income… In the end, Comey’s unwavering faith in his own moral judgment — and his inability to see how his own self-justification echoed that of every other leaker the federal government ever prosecuted — ended up being his greatest weakness.”
Jim Geraghty, National Review

“Trump, no doubt, often behaves outrageously and improperly. But the sense that he is an unprecedented threat to American democracy has also made his opponents feel justified in lowering their own standards to oppose him. Just this week, we've seen Trump opponents promote the presidential candidacy of recovering birther Joe Walsh. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell on Wednesday was forced to apologize for airing a thinly sourced report on Trump's financial ties to Russia, acknowledging that it didn't go through the normal standards of verification. And now, on Thursday, we get this OIG report…

“Those concerned with the destruction of norms in the Trump era need to consider the question in two ways. There is the threat of Trump's actions eroding norms, but there is also the danger that his opponents take actions in opposing Trump that actually hasten the destruction of norms instead of preserving them.”
Philip Klein, Washington Examiner

Mr. Horowitz’s report methodically skewers Mr. Comey’s claim that his memos were ‘personal’ and therefore his to keep and use. It notes that he interacted with Mr. Trump only in his capacity as the FBI director, in official settings. He shared the memos with senior FBI leaders. Some memos touch on official investigations, while others contain classified information, which ‘is never considered personal property’... Mr. Comey’s attempt to dig himself out of his disingenuous characterization heightens its absurdity. Asked by the inspector general how a memo describing an official dinner between the FBI director and the president could be considered a ‘personal’ document, Mr. Comey explains that he was also present in his capacity as a ‘human being.’”
Kimberly Strassel, Wall Street Journal

“The report found that he did not have any direct contact with the press in sharing the memos, a notion that no serious person was proposing. But the media's rightful framing of Comey sharing the memos with Richman for the sole purpose of getting its contents to the Times was wholly accurate… Like Trump, Comey is celebrating a report that documents, in detail, his disregard for law and penchant for lies. But unlike Trump, he actually did the thing he was initially accused of. He leaked federal records through a third party. Comey ought to be thanking his lucky stars that the DOJ declined to prosecute.”
Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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