Rod Rosenstein wants Robert Mueller to follow Department of Justice protocols for investigations. James Comey wants Mueller to follow in his footsteps. In an op-ed for the New York Times, the former FBI director claims not to have a dog in the fight as to whether he’s rooting for criminal charges against Donald Trump, but he wants Mueller to write a report of the kind that prompted Rosenstein to recommend Comey’s termination.
First, though, there’s this bit of silliness:
Even though I believe Mr. Trump is morally unfit to be president of the United States, I’m not rooting for Mr. Mueller to demonstrate that he is a criminal. I’m also not rooting for Mr. Mueller to “clear” the president. I’m not rooting for anything at all, except that the special counsel be permitted to finish his work, charge whatever cases warrant charging and report on his work.
Comey and Democrats in Congress have been ringing this bell for almost 22 months now, and Trump still hasn’t fired Mueller or even attempted to do so. Comey acknowledges that in the next paragraph, but even at this late date — when it’s becoming obvious that Mueller’s wrapping things up and that none of his indictments have anything to do with “collusion” between Russia and the campaign — Comey’s still stoking the “Trump might fire Mueller!” flames. If Trump was going to fire Mueller, it would have happened months ago, or perhaps almost two years ago when Rosenstein first appointed him.
Now that it’s painfully clear that Trump isn’t going to fire Mueller despite all of the sturm und drang from his critics, Comey wants Mueller to spill all the beans when he writes his report. Comey calls this “maximum transparency,” and claims it’s “traditionally” what the Department of Justice does with investigations:
I am rooting for a demonstration to the world — and maybe most of all to our president and his enablers — that the United States has a justice system that works because there are people who believe in it and rise above personal interest and tribalism. That system may reach conclusions they like or it may not, but the apolitical administration of justice is the beating heart of this country. I hope we all get to see that.
The interests of justice will also be best served by maximum transparency about the special counsel’s work. I don’t know all the considerations that will go into deciding precisely what to say about the completion of that work and when to say it. But because the Department of Justice is guided first and always by the public interest, it should provide details about finished investigations when the public needs to know them, as it traditionally has.
In other words, Comey wants Mueller to vindicate his own actions during the Hillary Clinton investigation. Comey went against tradition (to the delight of Republicans at the time, of course) to describe in detail what his investigation uncovered … only to decline to charge anyone at the end. That is not what the Department of Justice has “traditionally” done; Rosenstein made that clear in his April 2017 memo and in his letter to Chuck Grassley this month:
“Punishing wrongdoers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the Department’s mission,” Rosenstein wrote. “We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes.” …
Rosenstein is emphatic on this point: “In fact, disclosing uncharged allegations against American citizens without a law-enforcement need is considered to be a violation of a prosecutor’s trust.”
As ABC’s Jon Karl pointed out, Rosenstein directly references Comey’s actions as what not to do at the end of an investigation. Comey had described the circumstances as “extraordinary,” akin to a “500-year flood,” but Rosenstein said that’s when protocols are most required. “It is important for the Department of Justice to follow established procedures,” Rosenstein told Grassley, “especially when the stakes are high.”
Comey may want Mueller to talk his rear end off, but Comey had better prepare himself for disappointment. Mueller didn’t jump through all the hoops he did to prevent leaks only to violate DoJ protocols over sensitive information at the end:
To protect those secrets from prying ears, the whole of the office suite in southwest Washington has been designated a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), U.S. spy speak for an area that has restrictions to ensure secret information stays secure.
One common restriction in SCIFs is to keep out smartphones and other electronic devices, which can be turned into covert listening devices or spy cameras. Visitors also have been required to turn these over before entering.
The restrictions, while not surprising given the team was investigating whether a hostile foreign power tried to help Trump win the 2016 election and whether his campaign conspired in the effort, have not been previously reported.
Given that this started off as a counterintelligence operation, that’s certainly appropriate. It worked, too; there have been few leaks if any from Mueller’s team, especially on substance.
At the end, Comey turns from backing the rule of law to electioneering:
Critics of Mr. Trump should hope for something much harder to distort, or to nurse as a grievance, than an impeachment. We need a resounding election result in 2020, where Americans of all stripes, divided as they may be about important policy issues — immigration, guns, abortion, climate change, regulation, taxes — take a moment from their busy lives to show that they are united by something even more important: the belief that the president of the United States cannot be a chronic liar who repeatedly attacks the rule of law. Then we can get back to policy disagreements.
And maybe this time we can have an election where the FBI isn’t injecting itself into its works and seeking FISA warrants based on oppo research to spy on the candidates. As long as we’re all “hoping” and “wishing,” you know.
Speaking of which … why haven’t we seen anything in any Mueller indictment about Carter Page? Are we really sure Mueller’s done? If nothing turns up from the FISA warrant on Page, Comey might need to do some talking himself.