You realize we’re never going to be rid of this guy, right?
The wormhole that opened in the fabric of time and space in 2016 sucked us all into an alternate dimension in which, among many other weird and frightening things, James B. Comey is a permanent recurring character. We just need to accept it.
Sounds from this new NYT story like his next cameo appearance might be as a federal prisoner. Probably Michael Avenatti’s cellmate, if I had to guess, because that’s just how this dimension rolls.
You’ll recall that Comey has already been investigated twice before for leaking, each time in the context of feeding his memos about conversations with Trump to journalists via a friend. The first probe, a criminal investigation by the DOJ, resulted in no charges. The second, by DOJ IG Michael Horowitz, lambasted Comey for violating FBI policy — but also didn’t create criminal jeopardy. Maybe third time’s the charm. The Times reports that the U.S. Attorney in D.C. is looking at the revelation in 2017 that Comey was driven to go over the head of Loretta Lynch on the Hillary Emailgate probe because he feared that Lynch wasn’t impartial — or at least wouldn’t be perceived that way by the public. The reason for his concern was a strange document purporting to show Debbie Wasserman Schultz, then the head of the DNC, emailing a lefty operative to say that Lynch had told her she’d make sure Hillary wasn’t prosecuted. When Comey saw that he flipped, expecting that if Lynch cleared Clinton of Emailgate charges the document would leak and the decision not to prosecute her would look utterly corrupt.
Wasserman Schultz denied writing the email. Both she and the guy to whom it was supposedly addressed say they’ve never communicated. To this day, notes the Times, it’s an “open question” if the document is real. So how’d Comey get hold of it? Per the Times, it was given to the FBI by Dutch intelligence, who lifted it off of … Russian computers. That is, the whole thing may have been a bit of Russian disinformation concocted with an eye to leaking it publicly if/when the DOJ announced that Clinton wouldn’t be charged, in order to sow suspicion of that decision. From Comey’s perspective it may not have mattered if the document was real or not: Whether Lynch really was corrupt or was about to be smeared as corrupt by the Kremlin, he had to get her out of the process so that the investigation didn’t end up looking crooked. So he resolved to announce the results of the Clinton probe himself, to make clear that it was his conclusion not to prosecute rather than Lynch’s. Both the NYT and WaPo wrote about Comey’s thinking on this in early 2017, right around the time he was fired by Trump.
Which brings us to today’s story. How, exactly, did the media find out about that strange document at the time?
Hackers working for Dutch intelligence officials obtained the document and provided it to the F.B.I., and both its existence and the collection of it were highly classified secrets, the people said…
Prosecutors are also looking at whether [Comey pal Daniel] Richman might have played a role in providing the information to reporters about the Russia document and how it figured into Mr. Comey’s rationale about the news conference, according to the people familiar with the investigation. Mr. Comey hired Mr. Richman at one point to consult for the F.B.I. about encryption and other complex legal issues, and investigators have expressed interest in how he operated.
Mr. Richman was quoted in the April 2017 article in The Times that revealed the document’s existence.
Richman is the same friend who told the media the contents of Comey’s memo about his chats with Trump. Did he also relay the contents of this classified document to them on Comey’s behalf? Did Comey himself comment off the record on what the document said? Clearly someone privy to his thinking and the substance of the document was in touch with reporters, wanting to help them understand in the spring of 2017 why Comey had felt impelled to handle the end of the Emailgate probe in the irregular way that he did. He was under scrutiny at the time for his unorthodox approach to that case (both in explaining his rationale for not charging Clinton and his fateful decision to reopen the probe right before the election) and for the seriousness of the FBI’s interest in the Steele dossier. Maybe he decided he needed to defend himself, even if that meant sharing a little classified info with reporters.
The entire Comey story from the day of his Hillary press conference until tonight has been him straining to reassure Americans that they can trust the integrity of the system and ending up taking increasingly wacky measures that undermined that trust at every turn. Would it be so surprising at this point if a casual leak of classified info to show that he meant well was part of that approach?
Comey defenders will have a field day attacking this story regardless. It’s unusual for leak investigations to focus on leaks that happened years ago, the Times notes, since it’s harder with each passing day to track down the original source of the leak. The U.S. Attorney always has pressing new business to handle too, in which case why revisit the Comey episode now? Comey allies will doubtless claim that this is a Bill Barr operation (via the D.C. office) to exact revenge on Comey on Trump’s behalf. In fact, maybe the “investigation” isn’t a real-deal investigation at all: The Times notes at one point that it’s not clear if a grand jury has been called or how many witnesses have been interviewed. That is, maybe this matter is just something the office is casually looking into and some Comey enemy in the building decided to feed it to the Times to impugn him, with no real prospect of the case going anywhere. (“Leak cases are incredibly difficult to prosecute,” said one expert to the NYT.) But put it on your radar anyway, just in case it blows up in a month or two and suddenly the prospect of a Comey/Avenatti prison-roomie subplot turns real.