An hors d’oeuvre from Friday before tonight’s main course on ABC. Comey’s rehabilitation on the left was inevitable once Trump turned on him and he turned on Trump, but I didn’t expect that rehab to be so total that it might now amount to de facto blasphemy among some of them to question Comey’s motives.
Democratic Rep. Jim Himes: "People will rot in hell for besmirching the reputation, the integrity, and the professional history" of James Comey and Robert Mueller https://t.co/N7FVwrL2YZ
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) April 13, 2018
The lesson, I guess, is that so long as he’s willing to take some petty jabs at Trump’s hand size and orange glow in print, a man can be forgiven anything. Including tanking the Democrats’ chances at the presidency at the last minute.
This is how negative partisanship works, though. To some Democrats like Jim Himes, it now requires believing that Comey is morally and ethically above reproach. To Republicans, well…
Some of that is disputed, like whether Comey’s memos really were classified or self-serving. Some of it doesn’t add up. If Lynch was in cahoots with Hillary, why did she step back from the Emailgate probe after the tarmac meeting and say that she’d do whatever the FBI recommended? Why not refuse to step back, take charge of the probe herself, and just announce that no charges would be filed? That might have spared Hillary the political pain of the famous Comey press conference announcing how careless she’d been.
The first tweet is weirdest of all. Comey’s point about letting the polls influence his decisions on Hillary and Emailgate wasn’t that he covered stuff up to protect her, wanting to ingratiate himself to the soon-to-be president. It was the opposite — he went public with the Emailgate stuff against FBI protocol more than once, which was an enormous help to Trump, because he didn’t want to be accused of having covered up for her after the election. If he had kept the Emailgate probe quiet, she had won the election, and *then* it came out that the FBI had deemed her conduct “extremely careless” but declined to tell voters, Trump would have spent every day of her presidency tweeting that the election was rigged because Comey didn’t reveal that information beforehand. Her presidency would have been seen as illegitimate by Republicans, just as Trump’s is seen as illegitimate by Russiagate-obsessed Democrats.
Also, contra Trump, Comey didn’t need “a job” from President Hillary. He was in year three of a 10-year fixed term as FBI director. He wasn’t going anywhere unless she fired him, which his campaign actions made it much more likely that she would do. By airing her “extremely careless” Emailgate dirty laundry in the summer of 2016 and then sending that famous letter in late October announcing that the investigation had been reopened, he all but guaranteed that he’d lose his job if she won. Especially since, as a million Democrats (including Harry Reid) pointed out at the time, Comey was much more coy about publicly revealing details of the fledgling Russiagate investigation into Trump at the time than he was about revealing details of the Emailgate investigation into Clinton.
This remains the single weirdest fact about Trump’s vendetta against Comey. Comey did more to damage Hillary and enable Trump’s victory than Russia did with its hacking and leaking yet somehow he’s emerged as Trump”s archetypal “deep state” villain scheming to bring down his presidency. POTUS knows, or once knew, how much Comey inadvertently did for him in 2016 per that warm greeting he gave him the first time he met his national-security chiefs as president. But now, because he’s enraged over Russiagate, he’s trying to retcon Comey into some sort of anti-Republican villain during the campaign too who was supposedly only looking for a job from Hillary despite blowing up her campaign at the end. It’s incoherent but it’s consistent: Trump always frames his political enemies’ motives in terms of venality or vendettas. Comey had to have been motivated by bias or personal ambition in his Emailgate handling rather than misjudgments borne out of principle because no one whom POTUS dislikes ever acts out of principle.
I think Comey’s going to end up doing him another inadvertent favor during this upcoming media blitz, though, by making it personal with Trump during interviews. The more it looks like Comey really does bear him a grudge, even if it’s a grudge that didn’t start until May 2017, the more all of POTUS’s criticisms of him will resonate. And the more Comey layers on the sanctimony (“A Higher Loyalty”? Ugh), the more glaring the grudge will seem. Luckily for him, Jim Himes will still be around to remind us that he’s actually basically a secular saint.