Comey’s struggle with the issue of transparency was resolved incorrectly. That would be obvious in any ordinary criminal investigation, where evidence and the reasons for declining prosecution are never discussed. The answer doesn’t change when the investigation bears upon a candidate for public office — here the presidency. Actually, the idea that materials gathered in a governmental investigation resolved without prosecution should, in the name of transparency, be made known in summary form when relevant for the guidance of voters is quite frightening. For that reason and others, prudent Justice Department policy has long bent over backward to avoid actions in connection with investigations or cases that might affect pending elections.

Friday’s letter, providing notice of the discovery of documents that the FBI has not yet evaluated for significance, was a further exercise in full disclosure about the status of an investigation, and is likewise an inappropriate exercise of governmental power. Here, obviously, the interests of Clinton and her campaign are compromised by the public disclosure that the government has found some new documents of unknown content. Even more important, so are the interests of the country in conducting an election free from the foreseeable public confusion and potential electoral consequences, indeed here based on no substantive information at all.

The short of it is that Comey’s quest for transparency is quite out of place in the context of his role as the decision-maker whether to recommend prosecution. The government’s job is to investigate, charge and prosecute, or announce that no charges will be brought. It has no business using the fruits of its investigation to provide commentary on the attributes of citizens, even if they are candidates for president. In failing to realize this, like many before him, Comey seems to have confused his sense of his stellar standing as a person and moral exemplar with the limits of his role as a public official.