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Opinion

Comey’s Firing Long Overdue

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President Trump showed the chutzpah that got him elected, and finally fired the inescapably incompetent James Comey, who always seemed to play to his own press, the headlines, and Hoover-esque ambitions than he did the interests of the American people, the reputation of the FBI or the perceived integrity and impartiality of American law enforcement. As an attorney who first-hand witnessed the deleterious effect Comey’s tenure had on FBI ethics, I cannot say good riddance any quicker than I can get out the 1998 Dom Perignon.

What was the trigger? Maybe the rather shocking admission in yesterday’s testimony that the FBI had not even bothered to interview either Sally Yates or James Clapper about the leaking sieve of the intel community which ran a smear campaign against General Mike Flynn, and a barely disguised, politically-motivated war against the Trump administration. Both Yates and Clapper sat at the center of the information leaked; even if they, themselves, were not the leakers, they almost assuredly have relevant and material information into who did the leaking. Yet not one request for an interview by FBI Director Comey who promised repeatedly he was “on it.”

This follows the repeated debacles of Comey’s handling of the Clinton investigation, the mishandling of the Orlando case on his watch, the psych-speculation that substituted for investigation into the Podesta phishing email disclosures, the complete failure to compel the DNC to turn over its files to ascertain the source of DNC email disclosure, the deference to bought-and-paid-for smear opposition research as “investigative” work with taxpayer dollars, and the delegation of meaningful hacking investigations to politically-directed, client vendors of anti-Russian cyber operations (Crowdstrike), as well as the humiliating disclosure they had no clue what they were do doing in recent exposes by independent hacking experts on matters related to Russia in other contexts. This doesn’t even dip into Comey’s mishandling of surveillance information by his counter-espionage unit that allowed unmasking and privacy invasions of warrantless surveillance with political appointees, particularly politically-minded prosecutors like Sally Yates, with whom I have a personal professional experience of her refusal to follow elemental ethical rules in her own ambitious rise-to-power path.

The handling of the Hillary Clinton matter grew worse, as the conflicts with his understudy Andrew McCabe came to public light. Comey’s own published ethics manual admits “the FBI requires employees to report to proper authority any known or suspected failures to adhere to the law by themselves or others.” Comey failed this test badly during the Clinton investigation, a pattern now recurrent in the leaks inquiry, given the lack of investigation into obvious witnesses. A person should not be involved in an investigation with anyone they have a “personal or political relationship” with. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe stayed involved in the Hillary Clinton email investigation even after PACs associated with long-time Clinton confidante Terry McAuliffe donated nearly $675,000 to the failed state senate campaign of McCabe’s wife. According to published reports, McCabe was the one who told FBI agents to “stand down” and not investigate the Clinton Foundation, the problematic pay-for-play concerns well documented in Clinton Cash. The breadth of the FBI ethical obligations requires that agents “disclose waste, fraud, abuse and corruption to appropriate authorities.” Yet, according to published reports, Comey allowed conflict-tainted McCabe to shut down arguably the highest profile allegation of public corruption since Watergate in the Clinton Foundation. Did Comey repeat the same pattern in the leaks case, the leaks case going nowhere?

Comey’s handling of the Russia matter and the leaks case was no better. James Comey’s conduct at the Congressional hearings saw him violate numerous ethical commands of his officers. First, his own manual requires that public disclosures about ongoing cases “should include only incontrovertible, factual matters, but should not include subjective observations.” Comey was filled with the kind of psychoanalytic, from-a-distance speculation about Russia and Putin that would even put the Trump-hating judge in Hawaii to shame. Second, Comey cited unreliable, partial sources that could not be used as credible evidence in court. Comey made claims of hacked servers he admitted the DNC did not even allow him or his team to forensically review. Comey relied on DNC vendor Crowdstrike, even when informative tech industry experts revealed Crowdstrike had a history of false accusations concerning Russia, and Crowdstrike received funding from the DNC. This compounds the stories currently circulating that Comey tried to put the author of the discredited dossier on the government payroll, after the ex-spy had already bilked both GOP primary challengers and Democratic campaign supporters for a dossier even Bob Woodward called garbage.

Comey clearly loved the limelight. Too much. He cleared Hillary in a manner few federal agents would ever do, and only after unusual grants of broad immunity, deferential methods of document production, complete abscondment of grand jury subpoena power, and inadequate investigation. The investigation was so inadequate, it came back to bite him when Weiner popped up toward the end of the election, forcing him to cover for himself and his own errors again, only to try to reassure everyone of Hillary’s innocence. Then he jumped to run to Congress to give his 5,000 mile away psychoanalysis of Russian politicians, a task to which he was mostly clearly, completely ill-equipped. Worse yet, it was increasingly apparent Comey was making the same miscues and tolerating the same misconduct in his leaks and Russia inquiries.

In the end, the failure to investigate the deep state-style leaks against Trump campaign connected individuals, and the Trump administration itself, was likely the last straw. Maybe it’s because the source of the leaks and the target of Comey’s investigation was staring him in the face each morning.

Robert Barnes is a California-based trial attorney whose practice focuses on Constitutional, criminal and civil rights law. You can follow him at @Barnes_Law.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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