Comey’s explanation in a Higher Loyalty also makes little sense. If a potential Clinton administration’s legitimacy might be thrown into question by concealing the restarted investigation, why did Comey not have even greater concerns about a Trump administration, given the fact that the FBI believed that Trump’s campaign may have been drawing aid from a hostile foreign power, an allegation far more serious than mishandling of classified information?
The answer may lie in the political asymmetry I’ve been writing about for two years: The FBI is petrified of criticism from its conservative detractors, and is relatively indifferent to its liberal critics. Comey may have known that the Republican outrage over not disclosing the reopened Clinton investigation would dwarf whatever frustration Democrats might express at the opposite course of action, had he kept it under wraps as Justice Department guidelines obligated him to do. Indeed, despite the role Comey’s decision played in helping Trump win the White House, Republicans have spent the Trump administration demanding political purges of the FBI and prosecutions of the president’s critics and rivals. While Republicans bear the responsibility for attempting to politicize federal law enforcement, the Democrats’ feeble acquiescence to this dynamic has only enabled them.
That asymmetry is illustrated painfully in the parade of Democrats Comey trots out to reaffirm his decisions. According to Comey, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tearfully told the former FBI director, “You were in an impossible position”; former President Barack Obama told Comey “nothing—nothing—has happened in the last year to change my view” of Comey’s integrity; Attorney General Loretta Lynch told him to “look beat up,” after a private meeting, implying that she agreed with his decision. The list of affirmations is Trump-like in its self-aggrandizement: For all Comey’s disdain for Trump, the former FBI director has a Trumpish tendency to talk up other people’s high opinions of him.
Comey has a long record of public service, and Trump has none to speak of more than a year into his presidency. Yet there’s another way in which the virtuous and forthright Comey resembles the degenerate and deceitful Trump. Both are the main characters in their own cinematic dramas, the heroes of their own great epic stories, a mindset that blinds each of them to the consequences of their actions on other people.
Comey cares a great deal about honor, and regards the president as dishonorable. But in 2016, Comey robbed the American people of the opportunity to fairly judge each candidate in the 2016 election. That would be the case even if Clinton had prevailed; that she lost simply dramatizes the consequences of his decision. He chose honor over duty, and the nation, the political process, and the independence of FBI all continue to suffer for it.
Trump fired Comey for self-interested reasons, an act that may amount to obstruction of justice. But by that point, Comey had proven himself unfit to hold his office.