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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.