Comey’s in a tough spot, Josh Earnest admitted at today’s briefing, but of course so is the White House. If Obama criticizes Comey for Friday’s announcement about reopening the investigation into Hillary’s emails, it’ll turn a Category Three clusterfark for the left into a Category Five. Why is the president undermining his own police force, people will wonder? If O doesn’t trust Comey’s judgment, why hasn’t he asked for his resignation? Comey’s allies inside the FBI might revolt, feeling knifed in the back by the White House for the crassest political reasons. Imagine the ugly leaks that might follow. As a matter of protecting public trust in federal institutions, Obama has to vouch for the FBI’s integrity. On the other hand, his party has gone all-in on demagoging Comey for breaking with protocol and saying something that might affect a national election with less than two weeks left. And he did it, they note, without anything incriminating in hand. The announcement was that there might be something material to Hillary’s culpability on Huma Abedin’s computer, not that there is. He’s casting a cloud of suspicion without knowing if there’s any reason to. That could cost Democrats the election, and if it does, much of Obama’s agenda will be undone. Surely O has to stand with his party here, right?
Via the Free Beacon, watch how Earnest plays it. The key bit starts at 2:30 below and runs to the end. The compromise the White House has settled on here, it seems, is to vouch for Comey himself but not for his decision to make the new investigation public. Yes, Earnest says, Comey’s a man of integrity. “The President doesn’t believe that he’s secretly strategizing to benefit one candidate or one political party.” But…
“He’s in a tough spot, and he’s the one who will be in a position to defend his actions in the face of significant criticism from a variety of legal experts, including individuals who served in senior Department of Justice positions in administrations led by presidents in both parties.”
If this were a pure cheerleading session for Comey, he wouldn’t have gone out of his way to flag the “significant criticism” coming from some very highly credentialed “legal experts.” On the contrary, watch at 2:30 as Earnest makes a point of noting that the FBI’s usual silence about ongoing investigations is a longstanding norm developed for good reasons, an obvious nudge to the media that O’s not thrilled with how Comey proceeded. What they’re going for here, I think, is criticism of the “some might say” variety: Some might say that Comey’s actions were highly questionable … but of course we in the White House would never say such a thing about a public servant we esteem so highly. Read that however you like. If you’re a Democrat, there’s enough of a wink in there from O to let you know he shares your irritation. If you’re a Republican, well, here’s your soundbite that Obama stands by Comey amid Hillary’s attacks.
The brutal truth is that Comey was obliged to say something last week as a direct result of his decision to say something back in July, as Andy McCarthy correctly explains:
The Clinton camp is in no position to cry foul about anything. In announcing his recommendation against indictment, Comey not only gave Clinton the benefit of every doubt (preposterously so when one reads the FBI’s reports). He also based his decision primarily on his legal analysis of a criminal statute, which is far removed from the responsibilities of the FBI. Indeed, Comey gilded the lily by claiming that no reasonable prosecutor would disagree with his analysis — which was a truly outrageous claim coming from an investigator with no prosecutorial responsibilities, even if it did not inspire a lecture from Ms. Gorelick and Mr. Thompson on Justice Department traditions…
It is fair enough to say that Director Comey should not have started down the wayward road of making public comments about pending investigations in which no charges have been filed. Such comments inexorably lead to the need to make more comments when new information arises. Not that the director needs advice from me, but at this point, he ought to announce that — just as in any other investigation — there will be no further public statements about the Clinton investigation unless and until charges are filed, which may never happen.
In a better world, Comey would never have had to speak publicly about this. He would have issued his recommendation to the DOJ privately on whether to file charges against Clinton, as the FBI typically does, and then Loretta Lynch would have made the final decision. But Lynch was a dummy who let Bill Clinton onto her plane for a private meeting in the middle of the investigation, forcing her to recuse herself from the Clinton probe, which then put added pressure on Comey to help the DOJ decide what to do via his recommendation. Comey’s conclusion, clearly, was that Clinton was grossly negligent within the meaning of 18 USC 793, but as McCarthy notes, he chose to let her off the hook by declaring that traditionally prosecutions under that statute require a showing of intent — a decision that should have fallen to Lynch or one of her deputies. Finding that there’s probable cause to believe a major-party presidential nominee did break a law bearing on national security but that she shouldn’t be prosecuted anyway was sufficiently momentous, unusual, and dubious that Comey obviously felt compelled to explain himself publicly. Having done so and gone on the record once, he then felt he had to do so again last week when new facts emerged that might undermine his previous decision. He’s in this position only because Democratic voters chose to nominate someone whose name is a byword for corruption, who was known to be under investigation months before the first primary votes were cast, and because our Democratic AG made a moronic decision calling her own integrity into question. And now he’s getting killed for it. You would think, under those circumstances, the White House could do a little better than this to back him up. But I guess something’s better than nothing.