Jim Comey knows how to spin a yarn.
In 2007, I sat in a Senate hearing room, watching Comey, the former No. 2 official in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, tell of how White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andy Card staged a late-night ambush of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who lay in intensive care at George Washington Hospital.
Tipped off that they were trying to get Ashcroft to sign off on an eavesdropping plan Comey had ruled legally indefensible, Comey ran to Ashcroft’s bedside.
“The door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey said. They were prepared to manipulate Ashcroft into signing off on the eavesdropping.
Never miss a local story.
But Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter” – that Comey was right, he testified. “And as he laid back down, he said, ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general.’ And he pointed to me.” Gonzales and Card walked away without acknowledging Comey.
The episode elevated Comey to legal hero. It likely won him the FBI director job in the Obama administration, even though he was a Republican appointee.
On Tuesday morning, Comey performed a sequel, delivering his decision on Hillary Clinton’s emails. Comey began at 11:01 a.m., then delivered, over the next 13 minutes, a powerful rebuke of Clinton’s conduct:
Clinton or her colleagues “were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
A “reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those … with whom she was corresponding about these matters should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.”
Fifty-two “email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information that was top secret.”
“The FBI also discovered several thousand work-related emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were returned by Secretary Clinton.”
“Hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact. … It is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.
Then, Comey sounded the death-knell for the Clinton email scandal.
“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case,” he said.
“We are expressing to Justice our view that no charges are appropriate.”
Not only wasn’t Comey recommending prosecution – he was saying any prosecutor who did so would be unreasonable.
Much will, and has, been said about the FBI decision.
But the bottom line is that a man whose reputation for integrity is as unimpeachable as it gets here in the city of Satan has said unequivocally that Clinton shouldn’t be prosecuted. And she won’t be, given that Justice Department prosecutors have no reason to overrule the FBI.
Comey’s opposition to prosecution is what counts, not his words. “Only facts matter,” he said, “and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.”
No reasonable person can disagree with Jim Comey.