Friday, December 23, 2016

A G-Man for Our Time

It was enough to make you nostalgic for the days of J. Edgar Hoover. If Hoover had had as much on any president, presidential candidate, or pretty much anyone else as James Comey had, he wouldn't have talked about it, he certainly wouldn't have told Congress, and he would have kept it carefully hidden, to be used as blackmail material later on, should the need arise. J. Edgar was the great puppet master of his time, and he struck fear into the hearts of anybody and everybody who had any interest in getting, or staying, ahead in Washington, DC or in politics in general. He was, arguably, the most powerful man in Washington, at least in the later decades of his seemingly-interminable tenure.

But those days are over with, and now we're in the era of public spectacles, open accusations, open denials, and all the rest of it. Some will argue that this is an improvement over the old secretive, hypocritical days; I don't know. It could be argued that pretending is preferable to mucking about in the offal under the glare of the multi-media spotlight; at least it lent a slightly more dignified air to things.

And has corruption become worse, or is it just more public? It is certainly harder to keep secrets now, with the breaking of the old-time media monopolies and the rise of alternative information sources like WikiLeaks. The larger question as to whether increased exposure will noticeably alter human political behavior is as yet unanswered, but I'm not optimistic.

In any case, in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign came James Comey, an apparently scrupulous and honest man who happened to be working for, and within, a remarkably corrupt administration. So his life must have been an endless series of decisions, on an almost daily basis – do you please the boss by adhering to her suggestions and “guidance”, or do you follow the mission statement of the agency you're in charge of? In other words, do you do the right thing, and damn the consequences? The FBI is, I would say, more above politics than the average government department or agency, but can it possibly be totally above politics? Highly unlikely. So anyone in that position has to choose, and they have to fall back on their own principles on a regular basis. (Or, if they have no principles, fall back on politics.)

So what comes out of all this seems strange at times. Comey recommended that Clinton and/or her aides not be indicted, but then laid out an elaborately detailed case that made it clear that they could have been, except (implied) that his boss, i.e. the attorney general, would never have pursued the matter. And then three months later, after having effectively said (to Congress) “case closed” he comes back with new information – all in the interests of full disclosure, avoiding the appearance of a cover up, etc.

I think in the first case he knew full well that no indictment was ever going to come out of the Justice Department, so to save face (the agency's and his own) he declined to recommend it. But because he is an honest man, and wanted to “make a statement”, basically in defiance of the overall corruption of the administration, he laid out the case. So, on balance, were Clinton & Co. pleased or annoyed? They certainly acted pleased, but when someone hangs out a pile of your dirty laundry you're bound to be annoyed as well. Did Comey have any reason to think he was going to be fired by Obama/Lynch? I believe he had taken care of that matter by his recommendation not to indict – plus, he had to be aware of the long-standing ambivalence in the relationship between Obama and Clinton. It wouldn't be the worse thing in the world for Clinton to be in a bit of hot water, in other words; in some ways it would validate the fact that Obama had been nominated in 2008 and had won.

But did Comey have any reason to think he would be fired on Day One of the next Clinton administration, assuming that Hillary had won, which – up to that point – seemed like a certainty? It seems like he would have ample reason to think that – and so when the next avalanche of e-mails happened, he figured he had nothing to lose by not only notifying Congress, but by telling everybody that he had done so.

There is nothing more dangerous, in a sense, than a dead man walking – if that dead man still has some weapons at his disposal. And you'll notice that, although Justice put up a fight on this, he was not totally slapped down or fired. Perhaps they knew better, at least prior to the election – you know, “optics” and all that. Their real attitude would have become much clearer on Nov. 9, but we'll never know for certain.

I must say, though, that there is something particularly delicious about the fact that the entire second look at Hillary's e-mails started with an investigation into Anthony Weiner's “sexting” with an underage female. The karmic significance of this cannot be overstated. And to add to the deliciousness is the possibility that the attorney general held off on quashing Comey's letter to Congress because she had been compromised by her airside chit-chat with Bill Clinton, as explained in this article:

This has to be one of the “funnest” connect-the-dots puzzles in recent memory – especially when the picture that emerges is, not surprisingly, one of bottomless corruption spiced up with incompetence, grandiosity, and a towering attitude of entitlement. How often do we see people really and truly getting the comeuppance they deserve? It's a gift that just keeps on giving – and the reason it does is that the dead keep coming back to life, like in a B-grade horror flick. Hillary lost (1) the nomination in 2008, (2) the election in 2016, (3) the recount in 2016, and (4) the Electoral College vote in 2016. As Rush Limbaugh said, shouldn't we at least give her a participation trophy?

(And by the way, if Trump doesn't keep Comey on as FBI director, he's betraying the guy who may well have put him into office. In this respect at least, I agree with Hillary.)

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