The Hill: For the sake of the FBI, Comey should resign
As a nearly ten-year veteran of the House Judiciary Committee – the committee responsible for oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Justice – and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, earlier this week I called on FBI Director James Comey to resign his position after his recent communication with members of Congress regarding the bureau's review of emails potentially related to Hillary Clinton's personal email server.
It has been widely reported that the Department of Justice has a longstanding practice of not commenting publicly about politically sensitive material within 60 days of an election. In compliance with this practice, Director Comey and the FBI made no public comments on former Donald Trumpcampaign manager Paul Manafort’s foreign business deals with Russia and Ukraine for millions of dollars. The FBI also made no public comments about their investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Furthermore, no comments were made regarding the Russians hacking employees of the DNC, DCCC and others.
However, 11 days before the election, not 60 days, Director Comey made public comments regarding an FBI investigation involving Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. These comments have since been used by the Trump campaign to embellish, exaggerate and lie about the emails, despite Director Comey having admitted in his letter to Congress last week that he could “not yet assess whether or not this material may be significant.” This decision was plainly premature, unprecedented, and to use his own verbiage, “extremely careless,” and Director Comey should have known that he was throwing gas on a fire.
The FBI concluded its thorough investigation into Secretary Clinton’s emails months ago, and Director Comey said that no reasonable prosecutor would file criminal charges against Secretary Clinton as there was no finding any mishandling of classified documents or information. There is no reason to suspect that these newly discovered emails will change this conclusion.
While I agree that the FBI has the authority to look into these emails, there was absolutely no grounds for the FBI to break longstanding policy and go against the advice of senior officials at the Department of Justice and release public comments on their investigation, especially mere days before the Presidential election. Some, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush Richard Painter, have even suggested that Director Comey may have violated the Hatch Act which prohibits employees in the executive branch, excluding the President and Vice President, from engaging in some forms of political activity.
There is a reason that FBI investigations are not usually made public until they are completed. To do so gives an impression of guilt before all the facts have been determined. That is unacceptable as the FBI Director must, like Caesar’s wife, be above suspicion.
I had high regard for Director Comey and have expressed my appreciation for his work in the past. When, in July of this year, Director Comey recommended no criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified information while she was Secretary of State but added his own sidebar of opinions to the announcement, I gave Director Comey the benefit of the doubt, despite the fact that his making such highly unusual remarks was called into question by many. But his actions over the past several days have not only weakened his ability to do his job, but they have severely jeopardized the integrity of the FBI and its duties.
The criticism of Director Comey is strongly bipartisan and has come from many experts in the field of justice. President George W. Bush’s former Attorneys General Alberto Gonzales and Michael Mukasey, President Barack Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder and a growing number of prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations have severely criticized Director Comey for his actions.
The fairness of our electoral system is like the fairness of a trial, and no justice official should act in such a way to potentially influence an election whether intended to or not. Standards must be upheld and an FBI Director needs to investigate, not inject issues into a presidential election when no investigation dictates action or basis for action.
I am not asking Director Comey to resign in disgrace. Quite the opposite. I am asking that he step down as a patriot and statesman because he must realize that his actions have done – and are doing – a significant amount of damage to how people view him and the FBI as a whole. His mistake and its potential consequences on the sanctity of our electoral process cannot be undone, but he can admit his error of judgment and do the right thing.
Steve Cohen is a United States Representative for Tennessee’s 9th District and Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice.