He was back on the Hill today to finish his testimony before the House on Emailgate and the Steele dossier. I think it went well!
Apart from his opening broadside at his GOP interrogators, all but accusing them of cowardice before Trump and righty media, the most interesting part comes when he’s asked if he thinks he bears any responsibility for the hit the FBI’s reputation has taken. “No,” he replies, blaming Trump’s attacks on the “deep state” instead. That’s false — it’s all but conventional wisdom among liberals at this point that Comey’s letter about reopening Emailgate in late October 2016 cost Hillary the election. The agency writ large must have sustained some damage from that. But I think it may be true that other political actors have hurt perceptions of the Bureau as much as Comey has. Note the trend here, or lack thereof:
Favorability for the FBI
Feb 2018: 66%
Jan 2017: 69%
Aug 2016: 71%
Sep 2015: 68%
Feb 2018: 73%
Jul 2017: 73%
May 2017: 79%
Feb 2017: 80%
Feb 2014: 74%
Don't know if I'd call that a *big* hit, but OK https://t.co/SM4OQwP3xJ
— Ariel Edwards-Levy (@aedwardslevy) December 17, 2018
There’s a dent after Comey was fired in May 2017, probably due to some Republicans rallying behind Trump’s decision to can him. But 73 percent is pretty good for an agency that had been at the eye of a national political storm for two years running as of February 2018.
What happened after that, though? YouGov published these numbers in June of this year:
From +23 overall in February to +8 four months later. Note the drop among independents especially, with 15 points in favorability up in smoke over this period. What caused it? Partly, I think, it was the revelation of Peter Strzok’s and Lisa’s Page’s texts in mid-June (shortly before this poll was taken), especially the infamous “we’ll stop it” one. That was the clearest evidence yet that Trump wasn’t wrong to suspect certain well-placed DOJ officials had it in for him. But don’t overlook how Comey’s spring book tour may have colored people’s perceptions of the Bureau. Until he started promoting the book, he was able to play the part of the well-meaning (if frequently misguided) lawman victimized by a president anxious about his criminal exposure. After the book tour, despite his best efforts to try to be seen as above the partisan fray, he necessarily became known to some degree as a Trump antagonist. That added to the suspicions generated by Strzok and Page.
And now here he is on camera kinda sorta embracing the partisan combativeness, calling out Republicans and their media apparatus directly a few months after endorsing the other party in the midterms. He might as well. There’s no avoiding partisan categorization in America 2018 even if you’re trying, and Comey’s barely trying anymore. His book affirmed that he viewed Trump as an enemy of American values as much as Trump viewed him as a political enemy. Now he’s ranting on TV about Fox News. We can’t be more than a few weeks away from Comey announcing his primary challenge.