Almost three weeks ago, Donald Trump’s personal attorney threatened to file complaints against James Comey for leaking documents to the press after acknowledging those actions in Congressional testimony. Marc Kasowitz planned to lodge protests with both the Department of Justice Inspector General and the Senate Intelligence Committee over Comey’s admission of handing off the contents of his memo-to-file on his meetings with Trump to a friend for the purpose of leaking it to the press. According to Bloomberg, that plan is still a go — but it has been postponed out of consideration for Robert Mueller’s investigation:
Donald Trump’s lawyers will postpone filing a complaint against former FBI Director James Comey with the Justice Department, according to a person familiar with the decision — a bid to stop antagonizing the special counsel who’s investigating ties between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.
Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, planned to file a complaint with the Justice Department’s inspector general about Comey. The ousted FBI director told the Senate on June 8 that he had arranged for memos he wrote documenting conversations with the president to be described to news reporters. Trump was furious about what he considered an illegal “leak” by Comey.
The president’s lawyers still intend to file a complaint at some point, the person familiar with the matter said. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the president’s legal strategy. The delay is a professional courtesy to the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and a signal that the White House understands he needs space to do his job, the person said.
The sudden appreciation for the needs of Robert Mueller is a little surprising. The White House, including Trump, went into attack mode on the special counsel after Comey’s testimony. No less a surrogate than Newt Gingrich argued that the long professional and personal relationship between the two created an insurmountable conflict of interest for Mueller:
When asked Thursday by Senator Susan Collins of Maine whether he shared the memos he wrote about his conversations with President Trump with anyone outside the Department of Justice, Comey answered:
“I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter – didn’t do it myself for a variety of reasons – but I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”
This statement is tremendously important because it completely delegitimizes Robert Mueller’s so-called independent investigation and reveals it as poisoned fruit.
A week later, Trump called the probe a “witch hunt” and took a shot at deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing a special counsel at all:
I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 16, 2017
The newly discovered appreciation for Mueller’s probe thus appears to be a rather significant change in posture. Why now? Perhaps the ABC report from last week that Mueller isn’t targeting Trump (yet) in the probe might have caused some rethinking of a public-attack strategy. Certainly they have realized by now that, even with Comey’s admission, that if there’s nothing to the allegations of collusion and obstruction that it would be important to protect Mueller’s credibility for those conclusions to stick. Extending the attacks on Comey and by association Mueller would be counterproductive for a team expecting an eventual exoneration.
With that said, what point will there be in filing a complaint later? Comey doesn’t work for the federal government any longer, and isn’t likely to return to public service after the past year’s experiences with Democrats, Republicans, and the media. Kasowitz doesn’t have much of a case for wrongdoing by Comey in that context, as I explained at the time, and the only thing such an action would accomplish now is to give Comey further entrée to public life to continue hammering back at Trump. If the point isn’t to discredit Mueller and the special counsel — an inadvisable strategy in any case at this stage — then it accomplishes nothing while needlessly elevating a potentially damaging critic. Best to let sleeping leakers lie, so don’t be too disappointed when these complaints never actually materialize.