Last night, Jason Chaffetz told Fox News that his Oversight committee would want FBI director James Comey to discuss with them his decision not to recommend charges against Hillary Clinton. “I’m confused by it,” Chaffetz said, and wondered why they offered Bryan Pagliano immunity if no one would end up getting charged. “Why not just hand it to the prosecutors,” Chaffetz asked, “and let them make the political decision?” Chaffetz also noted that the Department of Justice charged former CIA Director John Deutsch under similar circumstances, who eventually had to get rescued from prosecution by a presidential pardon signed by … Bill Clinton.
So why did Comey assert “no reasonable prosecutor” would take the case? Chaffetz wants Comey to answer that question publicly:
This morning, Fox News reports that Comey may walk up the Hill on his own volition this week:
FBI Director James Comey took no questions after his bombshell announcement Tuesday that he would not seek criminal charges against Hillary Clinton over her private email system, but he may answer to lawmakers as early as Thursday.
In saying he would not press the Justice Department to pursue an indictment against the likely Democrat nominee for president, Comey nonetheless laid out a strong case that she had violated key statutes regulating government employees’ safeguarding of sensitive emails. That had key lawmakers, including Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, demanding to know how he justified his decision.
Now, Fox News has learned Comey may appear voluntarily at a House hearing on the email case as early as Thursday.
What does “voluntarily” mean in this context? Chaffetz didn’t subpoena Comey, but a subpoena is a rare step anyway. Most Congressional appearances by executive branch officials come without compulsion, and higher-ranking officials are expected to come on a regular basis to brief Congress on that basis. As FBI Director and a key member of the country’s national-security team, Comey easily falls into this category, although his regular appearances would come before Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Judiciary committees, not Oversight.
Comey could have tried to blow off this demand, or at least wait for Chaffetz and Paul Ryan to make a request official. Fox’s report suggests that Comey has a desire to make such an appearance. Why? After several hours of watching his sterling reputation take a beating on national television, perhaps Comey wants an opportunity to explain himself at greater length, but he doesn’t need a potentially combative Congressional hearing for that. Comey could just head over to a broadcast news outlet and do a ten-minute segment and control the message much easier.
Perhaps Comey has a story to tell that requires the formality and drama of a Capitol Hill confrontation. Some have already speculated that Comey’s statement yesterday was, in essence, the closest Hillary Clinton will ever come to an indictment. Maybe Comey wants Congress to know why that is, and to elaborate on her violations of the law in order to emphasize her, er, extreme carelessness beyond any doubt.
Or, alternately, he might just want to follow the process of Congressional oversight rather than running to the media. Too bad he didn’t follow the process of finding evidence of law-breaking and telling prosecutors to handle it properly. Either way, we’ll soon find out.