Let’s cut right to the chase: James Comey should have been fired immediately following his disastrous press briefing last July, in which he candidly laid out the case against Hillary Clinton over her mishandling of classified information and then refused to recommend charges. Overstepping his authority while radiating sanctimony, arrogating power while clumsily intervening in the election, Comey deserved to be sacked on the spot.
Everything since has been one long slow twist in the wind for Comey, a former US attorney in Manhattan, where his most notable accomplishment was sending Martha Stewart to jail.
Ignore for the moment Comey’s series of missteps resulting from the Clinton investigation and his increasingly erratic and unconvincing public fan dance as he sent the nation into electoral paroxysms over the past 10 months.
On his watch, the FBI continued its politically correct, see-no-evil attitude toward radical Islam and thus failed to prevent the atrocity in San Bernardino; it also investigated the Orlando nightclub shooter for 10 months before closing its case, allowing him to kill or wound 102 people. Meanwhile, the federal office of personnel management was hacked by the Chinese, resulting in a serious data breach. That’s failure on an unacceptable level.
Now the bureau’s tied up and bogged down in the almost certainly chimerical “Russian hacking” fantasy, which bubbled up out of the leftist fever swamp in the wake of Clinton’s loss in November, and for which there is exactly zero evidence.
So when President Trump finally put Comey out of his — and our — misery last week, it was the best merited cashiering since Truman fired a showboating MacArthur.
Ignore the political firestorm that’s followed. Trump could cure cancer, solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and appoint Oprah as his special envoy to Mars and the Beltway press corps would still howl for his head. The fires fueling this politically motivated hatefest will abate only when the Democrats accept that they lost an election they fully expected to win.
And that’s the key word — political. As the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer, the FBI director shouldn’t be a political figure.
The bureau began as a financial-crimes investigatory arm of the justice department in 1908, and grew to maturity under J. Edgar Hoover, monitoring domestic Bolshevik radicalism in the early 1920s, then tackling interstate violent crime during the wild and woolly ’30s: the birth of the “G-Men.”
Yet the temptation to be a Washington player is always present. Hoover, who served under eight presidents and whose reign lasted until his death in 1972, amassed a storehouse of inside dirt on politicians, which made him essentially unfireable and which led to congressional insistence on Senate confirmation of future directors and 10-year term limits.
What’s needed now is a restoration of what should be the FBI’s primary mission, as it was in the early Hoover days: counterterrorism. Since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it’s far less important for the bureau to be chasing bank robbers in Burlington and Butte than it is for it to function as the nation’s first line of homeland security defense.
Although the parallels are not exact, historical circumstances have demanded that the FBI now function in relation to the CIA and NSA similar to the way Britain’s MI5 (domestic) and MI6 (foreign) intelligence services work together.
Nearly 16 years on, the Washington establishment still hasn’t accepted that 9/11 really did fundamentally change our notions of crime, prevention and punishment.
But the American people have, which is one of the many reasons Trump won the election. Further, far from damaging the president in the eyes of his supporters, Trump’s decisiveness in canning Comey will only endear him to them even more.
So who should replace Comey? The rumor mills are already churning out names of the usual suspects: a judge (Michael J. Garcia), a prosecutor (Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher), a politician (Sen. John Cornyn of Texas), a veteran fed (Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe) and the Richmond FBI head (Adam Lee).
But the country doesn’t need another politician, jurist or prosecutor at the bureau. It needs someone dogged, determined, experienced, impartial and fearless. Someone sworn to protect and serve, who will follow the evidence wherever it leads and make the appropriate recommendations in the name of justice. Incorruptible and impartial.
In other words, a cop — the best one we have.