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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Comey’s Muddy Shoes

We know a little about FBI Director James Comey here at Courthouse News. We know him as a zealous manipulator of press coverage.

The inland region of San Bernardino became the site of a terror attack last year, and the subsequent locale for a series of press conferences. But the big news in the investigation kept coming out of FBI headquarters in Washington.

I was angry that we kept missing the news and was pretty tough on our Washington reporters. But then I realized it was not their fault.

Comey was saving the big stuff for himself, and he was only telling the reporters who staffed the press room at FBI headquarters, on short notice. He was keeping everybody else deep in the dark.

More than that, his staff was actively deceiving the rest of the press corps.

Our reporter phoned his office on a particular day that I remember as a Friday to ask if Comey had a press conference scheduled that day. We were suspicious because a morning press conference in San Bernardino had been postponed.

Our reporter was told point blank by an agent in Comey's office that there would be no press conference by the director that day. That was false.

The staff of the U.S. Attorney's Office here in Los Angeles knew that the director was going to make an announcement and that was indeed why the San Bernardino press conference had been postponed, as they told me later that day.

Unlike Comey's office, the rest of the federal prosecutorial agencies, the Department of Justice and the individual U.S. attorney offices, are even-handed about news, putting any journalist who asks on the press list, and giving plenty of advance notice on press conferences.

So Comey is not a straight-shooter.

After he dropped a smoke bomb into the presidential campaign last week, I scoffed when I heard CNN commentators saying Comey was in a "tough spot."

The Republican FBI director knew exactly what he was doing, in my view. He violated a longstanding prosecutorial tradition of not making major announcements in the two months preceding an election. And he had been warned by DOJ officials not to do it.

The proof in a way was that his letter contained no more than innuendo with no hint of a conclusion, saying only that his agents were looking at more emails. He had nothing of consequence to announce.

He was simply providing fodder to the Republicans. They said, as was entirely predictable, "There must be something there."

The other factor that helps reveal his disingenousness is that prosecutors and agents regularly refuse to comment on pending investigations. I have heard that way more times than I can count during my career as a journalist, even after convictions that concluded investigations. It is the standard line.

So Comey violated longstanding tradition and common policy with his letter, which tells us the effect of his Republican billet doux was understood and intended.

My rough guess is that because the director had been criticized by the Republicans in Congress with respect to the Clinton emails, he did not want to leave things that way. He figured he would soon need career options.

Which is likely to be the case shortly after January 20.

I thought the director was finished after the extraneous public criticism of Clinton's email practice even though no illegality had been found. Now he has stepped deeper into the partisan mud, and I'm just waiting for her to tell him to wipe his shoes and not let the door hit him on the way out.

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