Last Thursday I anxiously awaited the television broadcast of James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was both drama and American Constitutional history. From his previous appearances before Congress, Mr. Comey proved to be a meddlesome priest in the American Constitutional process.
By recent polling, many Americans do not view Mr. Comey favorably. Though he was prominent over the last year, his messages have not pleased some. Mr. Comey explained last year to the American public why former Secretary Hillary Clinton should not be indicted for violating classification laws. He also provided his opinion that she had been “careless” when using her own email servers for official State Department business. More recently, he led an investigation into Russia’s hacking of the American election. Frustrating members of the Administration, Mr. Comey testified candidly before Congress explaining the FBI’s investigation.
Jim Comey and The FBI
One must wonder why Mr. Comey has become such a fixture in the contemporary American political process. Has he just inserted himself gratuitously because he enjoys “showboating”? Or, is there a more substantial reason, based on his perception of institutional necessity?
To address this question, we must understand why there is a Federal Bureau of Investigation. The New Yorker recently released a podcast where this was discussed. The FBI was established by President Theodore Roosevelt as one of his progressive reforms. The Bureau originally did not live up to its purpose. The podcast outlines how it has over time turned the corner.
Mr. Comey likely views his activities as a guardian by protecting the Bureau from infecting political influences. On the other hand, commentators supporting Mr. Trump now work to turn Mr. Comey’s objective on its head by calling him corrupt, alleging he “lied” and “leaked”. Ultimately, we hope judgment on these matters will be forthcoming after considerable investigation. At this time, I wonder – Where would we be without Mr. Comey? Maybe we would be blind and stupid.
In the Hillary Clinton investigation after the tarmac meeting between former President Clinton and Attorney General Lynch, what was the option for the voters? Was it to bury the information about the servers? Losing this critical background in the process? I am sure some Clinton supporters preferred sacrificing the background for their greater good, but would the American voter have been well served if they did not have the opportunity to understand Secretary Clinton’s behavior? Others, some Trump voters, thought the FBI and Department of Justice did not go far enough. I looked at this in some detail and learned likely there was not a basis to charge, except possibly for a misdemeanor.
What is The Nature of A Presidential Request?
Regarding Mr. Trump. The allegation is he asked Mr. Comey, “He (General Flynn) is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey confirmed the request/direction while under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Subsequently, President Trump in a different forum answered a question denying he had asked to stop the investigation regarding General Flynn.
We will have to wait to see what the investigation turns up. In my opinion, irrespective, we are better knowing instead of burying this possibility. Without Mr. Comey’s release of the information, we would be largely oblivious to this Constitutional issue of the President possibly intervening in the administration of justice on behalf of a friend.
Reform Supporting Our Constitution
Truly the political process over the past year has exposed inconvenient truths. My concern is identifying the culprit – whether it be the “meddlesome priest” or the king or the would-be queen? By identifying the culprit(s) and their behavior, we may better understand what damages our Constitutional institutions. As the podcast tells, the FBI came out of the progressive movement and was a reform factor. Ultimately reform in America preserves and invigorates Constitutional processes and the FBI is likely a solid steward.
The Bureau was intended to counter ingrown, slow, corrupt and parochial law enforcement agencies when they occurred. Recently it has performed this role in addressing corruption and civil rights violations around the country. That it takes this role seriously within the halls of our national capital involving our most powerful national politicians is very encouraging to me. It is resilient actions that affirm durable truths, essential to empower our constitutional processes. Consequently, it may well buttress our Constitutional republic at a time when it really needs the support.
How does the “meddlesome priest” statement reflect on Mr. Comey. After watching Becket last night, my impression is if Mr. Trump is Henry II and Mr. Comey – Becket, he views his role to protect his FBI institution as a servant and guardian.
Similarly, Becket paid the price because of the zealousness of King Henry’s knightly coterie and their willingness to act murderously upon a drunken call-to-action from their King. Ultimately the cause was the King’s unwillingness to protect Becket when he acted for the institution of the Church. There certainly was no open-forum let’s-talk-about-it between King Henry II and Becket at Canterbury. Likewise, apparently there was none between President Trump and Director Comey.
In the end, Henry was not so much evil as indulgent and unaccountable and I believe this is similar to Mr. Trump. The appearance from afar, President Trump’s most dangerous characteristics are a lack of knowledge and respect for the basic American Constitutional mechanisms that are not simply transactional. This is apparently compounded by a lack of engagement with views other than his own and those of a narrow circle and his adoring crowds.
I believe the 1964 film speaks volumes.
All of this is to say we do not know how the drama will develop.
Except from my cabin in the woods, I will miss Mr. Comey as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and hope he remains an advocate in the public arena for transparency and American Constitutional principles. With this assignment, a little showboating could not hurt.