James Comey Must Either Explain Himself Immediately Or Resign

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Senate Democrats are demanding that FBI Director James Comey provide more information about his extraordinary ‘Clinton email’ letter today.

Published Friday, Comey’s bizarre missive “breaks with the longstanding tradition of the Department of Justice and the FBI of exercising extreme caution in the days leading up to an election.”

“Just ten days before a presidential election, the American people deserve more disclosure without delay regarding the FBI’s most recent announcement,” the Democrats wrote in the letter. “Anything less would be irresponsible and a disservice to the American people.”

The senators’ letter comes after reports that top Justice Department officials had urged Comey not to announce the email review, arguing it would violate the department’s guidelines about taking any actions that could be seen as affecting the outcome of an election.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the letter “thin innuendo” that displays “a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information.” Vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) rightly wonders if Comey has even seen the documents in question, for he evidently has not.

Multiple news agencies have now cited anonymous sources in the FBI saying that the emails Comey referenced are unknown in number, probably duplicates of messages that are already in the hands of investigators, and tangentially discovered in a completely different case. It’s not even clear that Clinton sent or received any of these emails.

Frankly, the FBI investigation team doesn’t even know what they have yet. For while they have apparently known about the situation for more than a month, Comey did not know anything until last week, and no search warrant was obtained for the laptop which reportedly contains the emails until this weekend — two days after Comey’s vague letter to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) set off this firestorm of criticism.

Comey has now been denounced by a broad spectrum of legal observers. Among them is CNN analyst Paul Callan, who worries that Comey “has reinserted the Bureau into the political process” in the fashion of J. Edgar Hoover and suggests that “it’s time for the embattled FBI director who seems to have forgotten how to conduct a proper investigation to resign.”

Even Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, who maintains that Clinton should be indicted, says that Comey “disgraces and politicizes” his office by violating “the most fundamental rules of fairness and impartiality” this way.

Eric Holder says that his colleague Comey must correct his “mistake” in order “to dispel the uncertainty he has created,” but it’s not clear this will be enough, or that Comey can actually provide any further information.

Dozens of former US attorneys have signed an open letter saying they are “astonished and perplexed” by Comey’s actions. Notably, George W. Bush White House ethics lawyer Richard painter has filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel asking that Comey be investigated for violating the Hatch Act.

Comey should indeed explain himself by close of business today. We might charitably give him until tomorrow so he can get a better understanding of what the FBI has actually discovered. But if he cannot satisfactorily explain why he broke with Department of Justice policy, advice, and protocol in the last two weeks of a contentious presidential race, then Comey needs to resign, and he needs to do it this week.

There are two possible explanations for what Comey did. Either he was trying to influence the outcome of a presidential election with this nothingburger out of personal political interest, or he acted under pressure from Chaffetz.

Given that Chaffetz re-endorsed Donald Trump on Thursday, it seems all too obvious that this is exactly what happened, but we need to hear it from Comey. If there are forces at work inside the FBI or Congress trying to warp American justice for partisan gain, then we deserve to know their names — and they deserve to be removed from office.

Otherwise, we must assume that James Comey’s veneer of nonpartisanship is false, that he is false, and that he lacks the character and integrity needed for the job.

Featured image via Rich Girard Flickr under Creative Commons license

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