Trying to understand Comey

Until yesterday, some conservatives were demonizing James Comey for being a tool of the Democrats. Now, many on the left are demonizing him for assisting Republicans. Both sides misunderstand the FBI director.

It has been clear all along that Comey is trying to strike a balance in his handling of the Clinton email matter. He doesn’t want to come down so heavily against Clinton as to tilt the election decisively in favor of her opponent. However, he wants to make sure voters know the facts. That’s why he did not recommend a prosecution but took the extraordinary step of publicly discussing the damning evidence his investigation uncovered.

The decision to reopen the investigation due to newly discovered emails, and to announce the decision before the election, was another attempt at balancing. As Comey explained in a letter to FBI employees:

Of course, we don’t ordinarily tell Congress about ongoing investigations, but here I feel an obligation to do so given that I testified repeatedly in recent months that our investigation was completed. I also think it would be misleading to the American people were we not to supplement the record. At the same time, however, given that we don’t know the significance of this newly discovered collection of emails, I don’t want to create a misleading impression.

In trying to strike that balance, in a brief letter and in the middle of an election season, there is significant risk of being misunderstood, but I wanted you to hear directly from me about it.

(Emphasis added)

There is no reason to disbelieve this statement. It is entirely consistent with Comey’s course of conduct in this matter.

By saying that Comey is trying to strike a balance, I don’t mean to defend him. When voters go to the polls, they should know more than just that basic facts of the Clinton email scandal, which Comey laid out well. They should also have the benefit of an honest FBI assessment of whether Clinton committed a crime. That assessment should be driven solely by the facts and the law, without regard to political considerations. The assessment should not be gamed for the sake of “balance.”

I believe that Comey gamed his assessment. But I don’t believe he’s a partisan. To the contrary, he seems bent on favoring neither side in this election.

It’s fine to judge Comey; after all, he “works for us.” But we cannot judge him properly unless he first try to understand him.

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