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James Comey, through it all, was a consistent and presumptuous man, leaving havoc and irony in the wake of his noble intentions.

He seemed to think only he could save the reputation of the FBI and the honor of the American presidency.

Now both institutions are less respected than when he first ventured into the public arena nearly two years ago to try to function as their sole protector.

What concerned him most was the stench of politics extending into matters of law enforcement and the rule of law. To try to avoid that, he injected and elevated politics. He thought at least as hard about — and acted with as much devotion to — political factors as law enforcement ones.

One well-intended mistake of political judgment begat a mistaken correction, and then another, and so on.

Comey is smart, deadly serious about the propriety of his profession and his person, and an inveterate note-taker who is fully credible. But he is given to an exaggerated sense of character-superiority and unilateral responsibility. It leads him into lone-ranger behavior that can seem sanctimonious.

He’s a modern-day Sgt. Joe Friday — if Sgt. Joe Friday had said, “Just the facts, ma’am, except for my commentary to come later to make sure the people understand that the facts were all we ever wanted.”

Republicans resented Comey in July 2016 when he announced the clearing of Hillary Clinton of prosecutable behavior in the email matter. But Democrats weren’t crazy about him at the time, either.

In an editorial aside, he basically said that Clinton’s exoneration was technical, based on an absence of intent, and that she had acted recklessly with classified information as secretary of state.

Then, Democrats decried Comey when he notified Congress in late October 2016, 10 days before the presidential election, that the FBI essentially had reopened the email investigation because of newly discovered emails possibly not previously reviewed.

Happy Republicans made sure the memo got released publicly. But they didn’t know what to think three days later when Comey announced that the semi-reopened investigation was being closed again.

Democrats remained aghast. Why bring it up 10 days before the election only to take it back seven days before the election?

You can see the pattern. The director of the FBI engaged in politically contradictory behavior making entirely too much political news for a law enforcement agent ever to make.

Now, months after President Donald Trump fired him — yes, Trump fired the man who probably elected him — Comey is all over the news giving interviews about his new book, which makes clear his moral disdain for the deplorable man he deems Trump to be and his regret that Clinton, who had the strong support of Comey’s wife, blames him.

It was his job to announce that the email investigation would not result in any recommendation for charges against Clinton. It was not his job to elaborate and criticize Clinton. But he felt it was his obligation.

He was distressed that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch had ill-served the Justice Department’s appearance of integrity by refusing to call the Clinton investigation an investigation, but a matter, and meeting on a tarmac with Bill Clinton.

So, Comey tried to fix the political imagery by elaborating on “just the facts.”

It was not Comey’s job to send notice to Congress that there might be — and might not be — new and possibly relevant Clinton-related emails on a recently seized laptop. But he felt it was his obligation because he’d told a House committee during testimony that he’d let Congress know if anything new came up.

He also decided that the Clinton presidency, which was the election outcome he expected, would be weakened if new emails came out after her victory. And he thought the FBI would look guilty of political protection.

So, he served his own honor and the eventual prospects of Hillary’s presidency at the expense of the law enforcement integrity he thought he was serving, and perhaps at the cost of the presidency he was expecting and that his wife was hoping for.

By any prevailing law enforcement interpretation, he had nothing ripe to say when he said what he said 10 days before the election.

It was not his job to announce, just three days later, the closing of this not-quite-reopened case. But he felt it was his obligation because his previous action had led to dramatic political news.

You see the pattern: He kept breaking everything he was taking it entirely upon himself to fix.

After Trump was elected, Comey felt obligated — as ever — to inform the president-elect that there was a dossier circulating in Washington that did not accuse him of cavorting non-sanitarily with Russian prostitutes in Moscow but did relate the wholly unproven allegation.

Comey decided after that meeting that he needed to make detailed contemporaneous notes of any meetings with Trump because of the pending investigation into Russian meddling in the election, as well as his perception of Trump as a dishonest man who might misrepresent what was said.

When Trump, as president, tweeted that the Obama administration had bugged Trump Tower during the campaign, Comey, knowing the charge wasn’t true, pleaded with the Justice Department to issue a formal denial to protect the agency’s integrity. But the Justice Department decided against that.

Then when he had dinner privately with Trump and Trump asked him for personal loyalty, and Comey offered instead honesty, and Trump replied that he’d take “honest loyalty,” Comey rushed to his contemporaneous notebook.

In each case, Comey was trying to meet some principled obligation — either real or imagined, never assigned but always presumed, and either in defense of institutions or of himself, or both.

And now, atop the best-seller list, he is either cashing in or attending to a self-assumed obligation either to defend his honor or describe this president’s lack thereof. Or, most likely, all the above.

The consistency persists. It’s not Comey’s fault that Trump is president. It’s the voters’. But Comey seems to feel it’s the singular obligation of his involvement and proximity to describe the sheer magnitude of this tragic error.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers’ Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Comments

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  • mozarky2
    April 18, 2018 at 4 a.m.

    Tragic error? I doubt that we'd be seeing this booming economy with the Fainting Felon in the presidency.

  • DoubleBlind
    April 18, 2018 at 8:04 a.m.

    Spot on assessment of Comey and his actions. All he had to do was keep his mouth shut about having reopened the email investigation. Perhaps it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. Perhaps it would have.

  • Delta2
    April 18, 2018 at 8:15 a.m.

    People didn't vote against Hillary because of Comey. People voted against Hillary because of Hillary.

  • hah406
    April 18, 2018 at 8:23 a.m.

    The morally, ethically, and intellectually bankrupt coward in the White House has nothing to do with the economy. POTUS never does, regardless of who it is, up or down. And I get that people voted against Hillary because of their hatred for her, but can you honestly say that this dumpster fire of an administration, who has the world laughing at us or plotting revenge against us, is the better alternative?

  • TimberTopper
    April 18, 2018 at 8:25 a.m.

    mozzy, this 2nd placed popular vote getting POTUS is not responsible for this economy. That blue ribbon belongs to President Obama. Some of those that voted for this POTUS have already had their financial futures touched in a negative way by this current POTUS and have expressed their wish that they had used their vote to vote for the other major party candidate. Some of the voters of the POTUS just haven't woke up yet, but rest assured many of them will also be awakened by other blunders of his financial games.

  • PopMom
    April 18, 2018 at 8:58 a.m.

    The Comey blunder was only one of many reasons that Hillary lost. The hacking of the DNC emails and the resulting debategate--i.e. knowledge that Donna Brazile had fed debate questions to John Podesta, Hillary's Campaign chair, was another nail in the coffin of Hillary's presidential chances. I am glad that CNN fired Brazile, but I note that she is still allowed on MSNBC and she and Podesta are treated with respect, which I find outrageous. The way Debbie Wasserman Schultz limited primary debates in a manner to hurt Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley also reinforced Hillary's image of being heavy handed. Hillary surrounded herself with wealthy easterners and Californians and wore expensive pantsuits and fancy hairstyles. I voted for her and gave her money, but her campaign was just awful. The 2020 Democratic nominee needs to be somebody untainted by scandal and down to earth. We need a fresh new face.

  • Delta123
    April 18, 2018 at 9:35 a.m.

    I agree with D2. People voted against Hillary because of Hillary. And if this guy wasn't shamelessly hawking his book I might be inclined to be a bit more sympathetic to his cause.

  • BOLTAR
    April 18, 2018 at 10:04 a.m.

    None of us can know where our road leads, but at least we get to choose the intentions that pave it.

  • Packman
    April 18, 2018 at 10:43 a.m.

    Hillary voters blame Comey for Hillary's loss yet are making the guy rich buying his book. Can they possibly be any more useful of useful idiots?
    .
    "....yes, Trump fired the man who probably elected him". Nope. Over 60 million people elected Donald Trump having favored him over Hillary for many reasons none having to do with James Comey. Or did Comey force Hillary to call millions of Americans "deplorable", ignore Wisconsin, and set up an off the grid communication device in contempt of the rule of law? But wait, libs say it was Putin that convinced her to do all those things. Damn, I wish they would make up their minds.
    .
    Sadly, it seems somewhere along the way James Comey changed from being a decent law enforcement guy to a petulant narcissist consumed with self-importance and by all accounts a criminal (Comey admitted to breaking the law by leaking documents to his college professor buddy, among other things.).
    .
    President Trump is correct. James Comey will go down in history as the worst FBI director of all time. That's just sad considering at one time Comey was a pretty decent guy.

  • RBear
    April 18, 2018 at 11:19 a.m.

    moz actually we would. Trump is only a maintenance president and the economy was booming well before he took office. I know that's hard for you to fathom (notice I didn't call you a "moron" like you've called others), but it's a verifiable fact.
    ...
    Pack there were a multitude of factors that contributed to Hillary's loss. I know that baffles some Trumpsters, but it does require being able to correlate multiple points of information together. But Comey is right. President Trump will go down as one of the worst presidents in recent history.

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