Former Attorney General Speechwriter: James Comey Most Autonomous FBI Director Since J. Edgar Hoover

from the J.-Edgar-Comey dept

Riley Roberts, speechwriter for former attorney general Eric Holder, has a fascinating examination of James Comey's first four years as the head of the FBI. It details his frequently-antagonistic relationship with, well, nearly everyone, as well as his long history of going head-to-head with high-ranking government officials.

Roberts says no FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover has acted with such autonomy. The unprecedented public discussion of the agency's Clinton email investigation is just one such example. While Comey was undoubtedly correct that there was significant public interest in not just the outcome, but the inner workings of the investigation, his decision to hold a press conference and release investigative documents came as a surprise to his closest colleagues.

By and large, Justice Department lawyers have declined to criticize Comey in public, for fear of angering the FBI director. But in personal conversations and expletive-laden email threads, many were apoplectic at his handling of the Clinton case. One aide described senior officials who should have been involved in the announcement scrambling to watch it on television. Some were particularly incensed by the editorial commentary sprinkled throughout Comey’s statement.

While there is some begrudging respect for Comey's refusal to adhere to protocol or outside political forces, there are just as many that feel Comey's actions aren't prompted by a desire to make the FBI look better, but rather to make Comey look better. Comey serves Comey first, something that has led to him touting the heavily-debunked "Ferguson Effect," arguing against long-overdue federal sentencing reform, and fiercely advocating for encryption backdoors when even the Obama administration won't back him up.

Comey appears to be the worst kind of idealist: one that clings to his beliefs, but only when they serve his purpose. Comey was a key figure in a highly-publicized fight against NSA overreach back in 2004 -- one that culminated in a bedside visit to a hospitalized John Ashcroft in order to block the Stellar Wind domestic surveillance program. But Comey was only very temporarily a champion of the public's privacy and civil liberties.

Senior White House officials descended upon the intensive care unit where Ashcroft was convalescing after emergency surgery, hoping to bully the ailing attorney general into approving the surveillance program. Comey raced to the hospital to head them off, enlisting then-FBI Director Robert Mueller III to accompany him. With backup from Comey and Mueller, the bedridden Ashcroft held firm, the White House was forced to retreat, and the courageous deputy attorney general was hailed—almost universally—as a hero.

This is where the story customarily ends: with Comey, who would sooner have resigned (and taken Mueller with him) than violate his principles, riding into the sunset. But like so much of the mythmaking that goes on in Washington, this heroic picture—like Comey’s victory—is incomplete.

The truth is that Stellar Wind did not meet an ignominious end in Ashcroft’s hospital room in 2004. It continued through late 2011; some elements remain in place even today. And the program was reauthorized, with slight modifications, not in defiance of Comey’s categorical denunciations, but on his signature—less than a month after this high drama took place.

The problem with Comey's willingness to push his own agenda, rather than one that more closely adheres to his agency's, is that his office is pretty much a law unto itself. The agency has no clearly defined mandate that governs its actions, and the director's office isn't overseen directly, but rather grouped into other Congressional and administration oversight efforts -- none of which have been consistently effective in curbing agency misconduct or abuse of its powers.

Roberts notes that there could be more trouble ahead. Comey has only served four years of his 10-year appointment, meaning he'll soon be interacting with a new Commander-in-Chief. If it's Hillary Clinton, it's safe to assume the antagonism and resistance to White House instruction and intervention will only become more aggressive. If it's Trump, the end result could be much more unpredictable -- and not in a way that will generate any positive side effects.

A Donald Trump presidency, on the other hand, would pit the headstrong FBI director against a know-nothing strongman—a “law and order” president with little regard for the law. Dramatic and likely escalating, clashes would be virtually inevitable. And the potential for lasting damage would be immense.

One thing is guaranteed: Comey has cared little for official administration stances on issues like encryption, and installing a new person in the Oval Office isn't going to change that. The question is how long he lasts when faced with an administration -- Trump's or Clinton's -- that might start pushing for an early retirement.

Filed Under: autonomy, fbi, j. edgar hoover, james comey, politics, riley roberts


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  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 8:35am

    Comey's sort seems all too common when it comes to governmental positions of power. Those who crave power are never fit to handle it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 9:16am

    Great

    An FBI director that acts like the cross dressing Hoover wants to "backdoor" encryption.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 13 Sep 2016 @ 10:13am

      Re: Great

      The only cross dressing I care about with regard to FBI directors is sheep's clothing. Their obsession with creating and "thwarting" "terrorist plots" provides the convenient means for pulling another JFK should some president step out of line. That would be killing two birds with one stone since any such national catastrophe would be reason to call for an increase in funding.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 12:12pm

    "If it's Hillary Clinton, it's safe to assume the antagonism and resistance to White House instruction and intervention will only become more aggressive."

    What a moronic statement. If Hillary is President, she will run roughshod over him, much like she did during his investigation. And I'm sure he doesn't intend to do a thing to stop her.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 13 Sep 2016 @ 12:13pm

    The question is how long he lasts when faced with an administration -- Trump's or Clinton's -- that might start pushing for an early retirement.

    Why would they? As far as I can see both candidates agree with the obscurity and other things in his term.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 13 Sep 2016 @ 1:21pm

    Chrump

    I agree. If Don gets in, the FBI may get whatever they want from him. Like-minded kill-em-all and let God sort em out types

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 13 Sep 2016 @ 1:49pm

      Re: Chrump

      The fun thing is that Trump could do everything Nixon was done in for (while his sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks in order to improve his standing in the upcoming election would still be sorta off-limits, it has become known only posthumously I think) and more, and not break any law. Because the rule of law has been abolished under Bush and Obama "because terrorists".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 13 Sep 2016 @ 3:37pm

    Hoover, Comey, Freeh, Mueller What is the Difference?

    Former Attorney General Speechwriter: James Comey Most Autonomous FBI Director Since J. Edgar Hoover

    That is really not saying much as Hoover was an absolute scurrilous cur who thought nothing of collecting tawdry bits in order to blackmail those persons in positions of power within the US government who he thought would be able to further his ideological agenda and keep him on as director of FBI.

    How do you think it was possible for Hoover to stay at the helm of FBI for over 40 years? (Hint it wasn't because of his law enforcement acumen or lack thereof.)

    Paragraph below excerpted from Wikipedia page titled J. Edgar Hoover:

    He was found to have exceeded the jurisdiction of the FBI,[1] and to have used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,[2] and to collect evidence using illegal methods.[3] Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power and was in a position to intimidate and threaten sitting presidents.[4] According to biographer Kenneth Ackerman, the notion that Hoover's secret files kept presidents from firing him is a myth.[5] However, Richard Nixon was recorded as stating in 1971 that one of the reasons he did not fire Hoover was that he was afraid of reprisals against him from Hoover.[6]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Edgar_Hoover

    The question is how long he lasts when faced with an administration -- Trump's or Clinton's -- that might start pushing for an early retirement.

    The question should be how many scandalous bits of dirt has J Edgar Comey gathered on Clinton or Trump?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Sep 2016 @ 5:26am

      Re: Hoover, Comey, Freeh, Mueller What is the Difference?

      And when J. Edgar died his Deputy Mark Felt was miffed that Nixon didn't make him the new director, so he set about destroying Nixon by feeding confidential information to the Washington Post. So the agency will get you if you piss them off, even if the previous director is dead.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Sep 2016 @ 7:38pm

    The only thing more scary that someone who knowingly lies is someone who believes their own lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 14 Sep 2016 @ 3:02am

      Re:

      Comey does not need to lie since his agency has minting rights for the truth. When he states that the FBI operations are legal, the politicians will scurry around and retroactively make it so.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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