Most of the focus on former FBI Director James Comey has been on his comment in an ABC News interview that Donald Trump is “morally unfit” to hold the office of president. Trump is not the only president that Comey took aim at recently, however. In his new book, Comey accuses President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch of interfering in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails in much the same way that Trump interfered in the investigation of Michael Flynn.
In his book, “A Higher Loyalty,” which is due out on Tuesday, Comey described the problem of political statements that had “jeopardized” the credibility of the Clinton investigation. He specifically cited statements made by President Obama that seemed to absolve Clinton of criminal wrongdoing.
“Contributing to this problem, regrettably, was President Obama. He had jeopardized the Department of Justice’s credibility in the investigation by saying in a 60 Minutes interview on Oct. 11, 2015, that Clinton’s email use was 'a mistake' that had not endangered national security,” Comey wrote in a passage cited by the Washington Examiner. “Then on Fox News on April 10, 2016, he said that Clinton may have been careless but did not do anything to intentionally harm national security, suggesting that the case involved overclassification of material in the government.”
“President Obama is a very smart man who understands the law very well. To this day, I don’t know why he spoke about the case publicly and seemed to absolve her before a final determination was made. If the president had already decided the matter, an outside observer could reasonably wonder, how on earth could his Department of Justice do anything other than follow his lead.
“The truth was that the president — as far as I knew, anyway — he had only as much information as anyone following it in the media. He had not been briefed on our work at all. And if he was following the media, he knew nothing, because there had been no leaks at all up until that point. But, his comments still set all of us up for corrosive attacks if the case were completed with no charges brought.”
Comey also described a 2015 meeting with Lynch in which the attorney general allegedly asked him to describe the Clinton investigation as a “matter,” rather than an investigation. When he asked what the basis for the request was, Lynch answered, “Just do it,” a response that Comey says indicated that there was “no legal or procedural justification for her request, at least not one grounded in our practices or traditions.”
Comey said that he and others in the FBI saw Lynch's request as political, but that he did not see it as interfering in the investigation... or matter. “Though I had been concerned about her direction to me at that point, I saw no indication afterward that she had any contact with the investigators or prosecutors on the case,” Comey wrote.
Comey also denied that FBI agents had shown any personal prejudice in the investigation. “I never heard anyone on our team — not one — take a position that seemed driven by their personal political motivations. And more than that: I never heard an argument or observation I thought came from a political bias. Never,” Comey wrote. “Instead we debated, argued, listened, reflected, agonized, played devil’s advocate, and even found opportunities to laugh as we hashed out major decisions.”
Loretta Lynch fired back at Comey's accusation in a written statement obtained by the Daily Wire. Lynch insists that she followed Justice Department policy in “neither confirming nor denying the fact of an ongoing investigation.” Further, Lynch states, “At no time did I ever discuss any aspect of the investigation with anyone from the Clinton campaign or the DNC.”
“I have known James Comey almost 30 years,” Lynch's statement concludes. “Throughout his time as Director we spoke regularly about some of the most sensitive issues in law enforcement and national security. If he had any concerns regarding the email investigation, classified or not, he had ample opportunities to raise them with me both privately and in meetings. He never did.”
Looking at the big picture, a pattern begins to emerge. Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch appear to have subtly attempted to manipulate the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton without overtly interfering. Obama's statements seem to be very similar to what Comey claims President Trump did when he overtly said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Lynch's request to use the word “matter” seems very much like President Trump's request that Comey announce that he was not under investigation.
Comey never spoke out against any of the pressure applied to get him to influence investigations until after he was fired by President Trump. While Comey did refer to the Hillary matter as an investigation in both his July 5 press conference and his October 28 letter to Congress, he was unable to explain his actions except to write, “It is entirely possible my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”
The more that emerges from the Trump-Comey feud, the worse all sides look. Both the Obama Administration and President Trump seem to have engaged in similar “swampy” tactics to steer investigations away from political allies while Mr. Comey seems to be pliant and incompetent. Rather than conspiring with one side or the other, Comey seems to have tried to please everyone and ended up pleasing no one.