Resisting the smear

As practically everybody in the universe must know by now, The Donald and the RNC have launched an aggressive smear campaign against James Comey, anticipating publication tomorrow of his book.

Well … I’m not so impressed by the former FBI Director as I’d like to be, either. But it isn’t at all clear to me that he has done something wrong. Seriously: How many lawmen, do you suppose, have found themselves in the position of simultaneously investigating the two leading presidential candidates, the first a careless, unimaginative hack, and the other an overt, affirmatively corrupt sleaze who might be in cahoots with our country’s enemies?

Comey, it seems clear to me, was in an unprecedented, untenable situation far outside the facts contemplated by conventional ethical guidelines — and the responsibility for that lies chiefly with Donald Trump (who publicly invited his foreign patrons to release Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, remember, and publicly suggested Second Amendment fanatics might want to execute Clinton).

What Comey tried to do is finesse his way through an impossible situation — recall that Mitch McConnell refused President Obama’s pleas for cooperation against the Russian meddling — upholding Justice Department guidelines while deflecting Trump’s relentless “Lock Her Up” chants. That was a reasonable, honorable approach, but foredoomed because he could get no help from either Congress or the Executive branch.

What I wish Comey had done is this: Gone to the American people with the state of the e-mail investigation, which he did, but also his worries about Trump. His half-measures did not end Trump’s demagogy about the e-mails, but he renewed the focus on Clinton and put Trump’s corruption and possible treason on the back-burner.

The only criticism I have of Comey is that, dealt an epically bad hand, he played it poorly and made things worse. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anybody in public life I would trust to do better.

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