Prologue: As Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey supervises 50 state field offices in large cities and San Juan, Puerto Rico. His responsibilities are broad and significant. He reports directly to the United States Attorney General at the Department of Justice. His job is to oversee the development and completion of appropriate investigations. The next step is to give his findings to the U.S. Attorney General. James Comey was appointed to his current position in 2013 by President Barack Obama. During the hard fought 2016 presidential campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Director Comey became a controversial figure.
Act One: As the presidential campaign unfolded, it became known that Secretary Clinton had used a private server for emails, following the practice of former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and Colin Powell. Bernie Sanders, her opponent in the Democratic primary, said in a debate, “The American people are sick and tired of your damn emails!” This brought much laughter and a hug from Clinton who agreed and thanked him for his good natured response. However, when Donald Trump became her opponent in 2015, the email issue emerged as one of his favorite attack lines, calling her “Crooked Hillary” and inviting a chant of “Lock her up!” from his supporters at the Republican convention and rallies that followed.
The F.B.I. interest in Clinton’s emails began in July 2015 when the intelligence community learned that classified information had been found on certain e-mails. On July 10, the F.B. I. opened an investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information. The investigation lasted into the summer of 2016. By the end of June, agents finally interviewed Clinton aides and Hillary, who was interviewed for over three hours on July 3. On the morning of July 5, Comey called Attorney General Lynch and said he was going to hold a news conference. He did not tell her what he planned to say. As his superior, she did not insist he tell her.
The F.B.I. summoned reporters to their headquarters in D.C. for the briefing from Director Comey. A few blocks away, Hillary was about to give a speech. At the Justice Department, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents watched anxiously. All Cable TV stations carried Comey’s conference live. Comey strode into a large room in the F. B. I. building and stood in front of two American flags and two royal blue F.B.I. flags. At six foot 8, he was a commanding figure. He read his remarks from a script in a firm, clear voice for fifteen minutes. Comey said F.B.I. agents had reviewed 30,000 emails and found 110 that contained classified information. He added that computer hackers may have compromised her emails. He criticized the State Department’s lax security culture and Secretary Clinton directly. He called Clinton and her aides “extremely careless” in their handling of the emails. This became the most quoted phrase by TV and press reporters. Many listeners said later they expected him to announce criminal charges as Trump had been urging for months. That did not happen. In the last two minutes, Comey explained that the agents had found no criminal “intent”. Therefore, Comey said, “no charges are appropriate in this case.”
Comey had broken established Justice Department rules of procedure. His job was to give the F.B.I. investigation findings to Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She would then decide if further action was warranted. Donald Trump called the system “ rigged” and rejected Comey’s failure to bring criminal charges. Comey followed it up with a meeting a few days later with angry Republicans in the House of Representatives. He assured them he would keep them abreast of any further revelations. Throughout the rest of the heated campaign, Trump wielded Comey’s remarks as a constant refrain. Hillary had been “extremely careless” and could not be trusted as president.
Act Two. October 28, 2016 was only eleven days before November 8, Election Day. The polls showed Clinton with a clear lead. Almost all forecasters predicted she would have a strong victory in the Electoral College. Then, James Comey called a second press conference to announce that thousands of emails from Anthony Weiner , husband of Clinton’s top aide had included some involving Hillary Clinton. Therefore, he was reopening the investigation into Clinton’s emails. This BREAKING NEWS on all cable stations was immediately lableled a violation of a long standing tradition in the political world: There could be no information or introduction of news that would roil the campaign within sixty days of the election. This tradition, that had been followed for 50 years, was inscribed in writing by Attorney General Eric Holder during the Obama years. It was FORBIDDEN by Justice Department rules to do what James Comey did that day.
In the days that followed, it became known that Loretta Lynch and her deputies had urged Comey not to reopen the investigation into Clinton’s emails. Donald Trump chortled and embraced Comey after castigating him for months. Hillary Clinton kept to her schedule of rallies and speeches. She even moved into red states that appeared to be turning blue. The polls continued to show she was leading Trump in both Electoral College votes and the Popular Vote. But the margin had narrowed.
Act Three: On Sunday, November 6, two days before Election Day, Director Comey sent a final letter to Congress. He said his agents had worked their way through thousands of emails and “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusion that we reached in July.” James Comey did not vote on Election Day, records show. The first time he ever skipped a national election. Hillary Clinton said, “Our analysis is that Comey’s letter, raising doubts that were groundless, baseless… stopped our momentum.” She pointed to polling data that showed late deciding voters choosing Trump in large numbers.
Epilogue: We have learned since the election that James Comey and the F.B. I. were beginning their investigation of possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump Campaign in July, 2016 when he held his first News Conference about Hillary Clinton. This investigation continues and has become a major news story during the First Hundred Days. When asked why he didn’t say anything before the election about this, he answers that it was not completed at the time. Comey continues to stand by his news conferences and letters to Congress about Clinton’s emails. He told Senate Judiciary members he is “mildly nauseous” at the idea he swayed votes and caused Hillary Clinton to be the loser in the election, making Donald Trump president! Each citizen can make his or her own judgment on that question. I have made mine as reflected in the title of this blog.
……………………………………………………………………………………………Joyce S. Anderson