First we took a look at what James Comey had to say about Donald Trump. What about Hillary Clinton, the other major-party presidential candidate his FBI investigated during the 2016 election cycle? ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos offers up opportunities for Comey to respond to critics that he didn’t get tough enough with the Democratic nominee, a point which Comey doesn’t quite rebut.
Comey tells Stephanopoulos that he didn’t want to say “gross negligence” about Hillary Clinton’s use of private e-mail server for transmission of hundreds of classified documents, because it hewed too close to the statute under which she should have been charged. On the other hand, Comey wishes he’d come up with a better formulation than “extreme carelessness” to describe the chronic mishandling of communications during Clinton’s time as Secretary of State:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Y– you– you cited her for extreme carelessness. In an original draft of your statement– the words, “Gross negligence” were there instead of “Extreme carelessness.” And– and President Trump’s allies say that’s a sign that you personally went easy on her.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I don’t. All these allies who think I went easy on her have a hard time explaining so why did I do what I did in October, but I’ll stay in July. I wasn’t trying to go easy on her or hard on her. I was trying to be honest and clear with the American people. What she did was really sloppy.
Not– you know, there’s all the time people mishandle a classified document or maybe have one conversation on email that they shouldn’t. This was over the course of four years, dozens of conversations on email about secret topics. And I think eight about top secret topics. So this is more than just ordinary sloppiness.
So if I’m going to be honest, I have to say somehow it’s more than ordinary sloppiness. So my first draft, which I wrote myself, said, “Gross negligence.” It’s a lawyer term. And the reason I used that term is I wanted to also explain that I don’t mean that in the sense that a statute passed 100 years ago means it. And then my staff convinced me that that’s just going to confuse all kinds of people, if you start talking about statutes and what the words mean. What’s a colloquial way to explain it? And elsewhere in my statement I had said, “Extremely careless.” And so they said, “Just use that.” And so that’s what I went with.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And to Hillary Clinton supporters, that sounded like you’re accusing her of a crime even though you don’t prosecute.
JAMES COMEY: Yeah, I get that. And then the other said saying, “You’re admitting she committed a crime, you didn’t prosecute her.” The goal was– and– and one of the mistakes I made is I don’t know what it would be. I should’ve worked harder to find a way to convey that it’s more than just the ordinary mistake, but it’s not criminal behavior, and find different words to– to describe that.
The problem with this explanation is the title of Comey’s book and the theme of his media tour. A Higher Loyalty purports to teach lessons about the need to apply ethics and values to leadership decisions, and Comey spends most of his time unloading on Trump — and not without some cause, either. However, Comey consistently avoids doing the same thing with Hillary Clinton, and this is a key case in point.
Comey wanted to find a middle ground to describe what Clinton did, clearly as a way to justify ending the investigation without charging her. Note his consternation over the language of the statute when it was pointed out to him, referring to its 100-year age as an excuse to dismiss it — even though it remains the law that he’s supposed to enforce. Comey almost explicitly admits here that he changed the terminology in his letter to avoid pressing for prosecution by the Department of Justice.
Perhaps that was the proper legal choice, although it’s more accurate to call it prosecutorial discretion, which Comey’s job description didn’t include. Even so, Comey’s no longer lecturing America on legalities, but on morals, values, and ethics. Hillary Clinton’s use of the secret e-mail server was purposefully chosen in order to hide her communications from Congress and the courts, and she allowed the State Department to stonewall both for years when Congress and FOIA demands were presented. It was an ethically and politically corrupt scheme to undermine legitimate oversight of the State Department under her watch, demonstrating contempt for both Congress and the courts. And it was done to protect Hillary Clinton’s electoral viability for 2016, among other potential motivations, which would have colored the results of the election had it not been exposed by the Select Committee on Benghazi.
That’s not extreme carelessness or gross negligence, morally and ethically speaking. It’s deliberate corruption, even if it’s not enough to prosecute. So why doesn’t Comey call it out as such while he’s making ethical and values arguments against Trump and his allies?