Former FBI Director James Comey now has achieved the unique status of being criticized by the U.S. Justice Department for behavior that dramatically altered the political landscape for both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
On Thursday, the Justice Department released a report by its inspector general, who found that Comey violated department policy in the handling of memos he wrote about his interactions with Trump over the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. By leaking the memo through a law professor friend, Comey first raised the possibility that Trump tried to obstruct justice, a concern that led shortly after to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. While Mueller found that Trump’s conversation with Comey could have been an instance of interference, he did not pursue any charges because Justice Department guidelines bar the charging of a sitting president.
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Trump has said that the shadow of the Mueller probe has undermined his presidency — just as Clinton believes Comey cost her the White House in 2016. In an earlier report, the same inspector general found that Comey usurped the power of the attorney general when he went public 11 days before the 2016 election to say he was reopening the probe of Clinton for using a personal server for State Department email.
Both reports paint Comey as a self-righteous arbiter of right and wrong who ignored department guidelines. Comey’s misjudgments have damaged the reputation of the FBI by enmeshing it in partisan politics. “Even when these employees believe that their most strongly-held personal convictions might be served by an unauthorized disclosure, the FBI depends on them not to disclose sensitive information,” wrote Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “Former Director Comey failed to live up to this responsibility.”
That he did.