For the last few months, James Brien Comey, the FBI director fired by Donald Trump in the midst of the Russia investigation, has presented himself as the Last Honest Man as he toured the country selling books and taking potshots at the president.
How self-righteous is Comey? In the midst of the Russia maelstrom, he posted to his Instagram account a photo of the Potomac River falls outside Washington, adding a biblical quote: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Now, justice is rolling in Comey’s direction, with the revelation that he is under investigation for possibly mishandling classified and confidential information in his apparently all-consuming desire to get Trump.
Comey’s problem stems from his decision to write memos describing each of his interactions with Trump. He began on January 6, 2017, when Trump was president-elect, and Comey and the nation’s other intelligence chiefs traveled to Trump Tower to brief him on Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election. Comey stuck around after the meeting to tell Trump privately about the most salacious, and totally unproven, allegation in the infamous Trump dossier — the tale that Russia had video of Trump watching hookers perform a “golden showers” routine in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.
Trump didn’t take it well, sensing that the nation’s top law enforcement official was blackmailing him, J. Edgar Hoover-style. “It’s a shakedown,” the president-elect reportedly said after Comey left. “It’s bullshit.”
Comey, meanwhile, dashed down to an FBI armored car, pulled out a laptop, and wrote down his version of what happened. Comey would do the same after six other meetings or conversations with Trump. The director planned to use the memos against Trump if the need arose.
Sure enough, the need arose on May 9, 2017, when Trump fired Comey. The angry former director hit back by sending a batch of the memos to a friend, Columbia University law professor Daniel Richman. The plan was that Richman would leak some of the material to the New York Times, which would then publish a damaging article about Trump.
It worked perfectly. The Times obliged, reporting that Comey had created a “paper trail…documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation” — the Russia probe. Just for emphasis, the Times added, “An FBI agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversation.”
Translation: Mr. President, James Comey is coming after you.
The problem for Comey is that some of the memos contained classified information, and all were the confidential work product of a top FBI official. By sending them to Richman for the purpose of being leaked, Comey had violated FBI regulations and perhaps the law.
And now we know officially that the Justice Department is investigating Comey for leaking. In a much-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill June 18, the inspector general of the Justice Department said the FBI had referred the matter to him for investigation.
“We are handling that referral and we will issue a report when the matter is complete, consistent with the law,” the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, said.
That is not Comey’s only problem. The Justice Department is also investigating Comey’s former top deputy, Andrew McCabe, who was fired for improperly leaking information about the Hillary Clinton email investigation. McCabe claims that he did it with Comey’s approval, while Comey says he didn’t know about it. Someone is not telling the truth, and it’s possible a criminal investigation will find out.
In addition, Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s Clinton investigation shows that Comey made a hash of things and presided over a bureau in which top officials showed deep anti-Trump bias.
It’s all quite a comedown for the nation’s former top law enforcement official. But it was perhaps inevitable, given the investigation fever that now consumes Washington.
Special counsel Robert Mueller began with an assignment to probe “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Having failed — so far — to establish collusion between Trump and Russia, Mueller’s office has instead become a kind of truth commission, its main activity being to charge people in the Trump circle with making false statements to investigators.
Michael Flynn, the president’s short-lived national security adviser, is charged with making false statements to the FBI.
George Papadopoulos, a one-time volunteer on the Trump campaign’s national security advisory board, is charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Richard Gates, the Trump campaign’s deputy manager, is charged with making false statements to the FBI.
Alex van der Zwaan, a bit-player lawyer who had nothing to do with the campaign, is charged with making false statements to the FBI.
And even Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who is facing broad financial charges, is also charged with making false statements.
In lieu of uncovering collusion with Russia, Mueller has settled for charging Trump figures with lying — a so-called process crime that would not have occurred without the investigation itself. Flynn, for example, is not charged with any wrongdoing in his role as Trump adviser — not in his conversations with the Russian ambassador, not in the decisions he made in the Trump campaign, not in his December 2015 attendance at a dinner in Moscow (in which he sat next to Vladimir Putin) — not in any of that. Instead, Flynn is accused, and has pleaded guilty to, not telling the truth to FBI agents who questioned him about his entirely lawful actions. At the time, of course, those agents were working for FBI director James Comey.
So now the investigation has turned on Comey, Mr. Let Justice Roll himself. Trump defenders, like Rudy Giuliani, are delighted. After all, Comey figured to be the star witness in any obstruction of justice case against the president. Now, under investigation and with his own reputation in question, Comey is no longer the reliable, trustworthy source he once seemed. In investigation-crazed Washington, no one comes out unscathed.