Comey: The Watergate variations

In his NRO column on FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Andrew McCarthy acknowledges his “real affection for the director” before he deconstructs his testimony. Andy notes: “When Mills lied to agents about not knowing of the Clinton homebrew server while at State — a story that doesn’t pass the laugh test — this false account was shrugged off as one of those innocent, unresolvable failures of recollection.”

Comey was shrugging it off in response to a question posed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz in the last minute of his questioning in the video above. Andy’s affection for Comey from their days working together in the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York may survive the failure of Comey’s testimony to pass the laugh test, but I think Andy prefers to criticize Comey from the high ground.

Kim Strassel, by contrast, goes at Comey on the same point in her Wall Street Journal column “Jim Comey’s blind eye.” Kim calls Comey’s failure of the laugh test “the second revealing moment in the middle of Comey’s testimony to the committee” (read the whole thing for the first). Kim writes:

The FBI has deliberately chosen to accept this lie [that Mills didn’t know about Clinton’s homebrew email server]. The notes of its interview with Ms. Mills credulously states: “Mills did not learn Clinton was using a private email server until after Clinton’s tenure” at State. It added: “Mills stated she was not even sure she knew what a server was at the time.”

Which brings us to the hearing’s second revealing moment. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah) pointed out that the FBI’s notes from its interview with Clinton IT staffer Bryan Pagliano expose this lie. In late 2009 or early 2010, Mr. Pagliano told investigators, he approached Ms. Mills to relay State Department concerns that the private server might pose a “federal records retention issue.” According to Mr. Pagliano, Ms. Mills told him not to worry about it, because other secretaries of state had used similar setups.

More damning, Mr. Chaffetz held up an email that Ms. Mills sent in 2010 to Justin Cooper, whom the Clintons personally employed to help maintain the server. The email reads: “hrc email coming back—is server okay?” Mr. Cooper responds: “Ur funny. We are on the same server.”

To be clear: When Mrs. Clinton had an email problem, Ms. Mills didn’t call the State Department’s help desk. She didn’t call Yahoo customer service. She called a privately employed Clinton aide and asked specifically about Mrs. Clinton’s “server.” She did this as chief of staff at the State Department. Mr. Chaffetz asked Mr. Comey why the FBI wrote that Ms. Mills was ignorant about the server until later.

Here Kim quotes Comey performing what students of ancient history will recognize as the Watergate variations:

Mr. Comey suddenly sounded like a man with something to hide. “I don’t remember exactly, sitting here,” he said, in what can only be called the FBI version of “I don’t recall.” He then mumbled that “Having done many investigations myself, there’s always conflicting recollections of facts, some of which are central, some of which are peripheral. I don’t remember, sitting here, about that one.”

Really? Only a few minutes before he had explained that the Justice Department was forced to issue immunity to Ms. Mills because she had asserted attorney-client privilege. Yet he couldn’t remember all the glaring evidence proving she had no such privilege? Usually, the FBI takes a dim view of witnesses who lie.

Anyone paying attention understands exactly what is going on here. The Watergate variations add a mordant touch.