James Comey: The fall of a Niebuhrian

"As Comey came under the microscope of national attention, we learned that he had written his undergraduate thesis on [Reinhold] Niebuhr." RNS

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Bert Perry's picture

Somehow I'm not persuaded that Comey's behavior is attributable to Niebuhr....I am at a loss to see how Niebuhr would have justified allowing people being investigated to destroy evidence, failing to obtain relevant known evidence, failure to convene a grand jury and issue subpoenas, and flagrant breach of FBI protocol.  Yes, "realism" can give some things we consider morally dubious, but the whole point of realism and its associated Realpolitik is that you make the moral compromises when you know what they are.   A classic example is the moral horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki vs. the moral horror of a hypothetical invasion of Japan.   

That's not what Comey did--his work in that case was more along the lines of "sweep it under the rug", and I would suspect any investigation he did of the IRS was more of the same.  He needed to go years ago.

Aaron Blumer's picture

I think you don't have the whole story on Comey... and you're asserting a lot of conjecture there as if it were fact.

It has to mean something that, mistakes notwithstanding, the man was (is) widely respected by law enforcement leaders both inside and outside of the Bureau, including people at very different points of the political spectrum.

It will be hard for Trump/DOJ to replace him with someone equally skilled.

Did he botch the Hillary thing? Quite possibly. But two things on that: all the facts are not known, and it's so, so easy to pass judgment on choices leaders make from the safety of the living room sofa with nothing at all at stake. The fact is that we don't know anyone else in that predicament would have done any better. Maybe... maybe not.

 

Bert Perry's picture

Understood that I don't have "all the facts", but what I noted is true.  Comey did not get the server quickly, and it was erased while he dilly-dallied.  He did not convene a grand jury, issued no subpoenas, and allowed witnesses to destroy evidence.  In his statements about the Hilliary case, he also misstated the law's requirements pretty badly.  Numerous prosecutors have noted this with alarm.

Sorry, but these don't even rise to the level of "rookie mistakes", and they are a sign that somebody is leaning on someone to make them.  If indeed Loretta Lynch was getting in his way there--or in the IRS investigation as well--he needed to make a stink about it, not go on as if everything were alright and do a 10% investigation that his boss' boss used to declare his administration scandal-free.

 

TylerR's picture

Comey is a figurehead. He is irrelevant to actual investigations. He doesn't do investigations. The investigators do the investigations. People need to realize that. He is irrelevant. IRRELEVANT. This is something people who aren't in criminal or regulatory investigations often don't understand. Comey wasn't a technician or an SME; he was a program manager (admittedly, he ran a big program!). Different roles. As a program manager, he has strategic input and sets broad goals. But, he doesn't actually do investigations himself. This is why the hysteria over the potential impact on the Russian investigations makes me laugh. One of the benefits to being clueless is that you never quite realize how clueless you are . . .

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

Tyler, Comey is a former prosecutor.  Although he wasn't doing that particular investigation, he knows very well what a properly run investigation looks like, and also knows very well what laws require intent, and which do not.  He was also, as the manager of the FBI, responsible for getting his subordinates the tools and information they needed to do their jobs.  

Sorry, he doesn't get off just because he wasn't doing the investigation, especially since he was the one that mandated investigator silence and authorized destruction of evidence.  

TylerR's picture

My comments weren't directed to you, but to the general hysteria about Comey's firing. My own assessment is that he needed to go. He seemed like a bumbler. But, it should have been handled better. As Krauthammer mentioned, Trump handled this the way a mafia boss would. Ugly.

As far as being a program manager goes, he isn't personally guilty of any investigative missteps, but he is responsible. That has to mean something. The FBI needs somebody better. I'd prefer an investigator run the FBI.     

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

Well said.  One thing that strikes me, though, is that learning the basics of investigations--what should, and what should not be there, etc.,--is child's play compared to the need to determine whether or not the person has management skills and a backbone.  Somehow it seems that DC actively selects against vertebrae.  

Going way back to the original point, I'm still at a loss as to how one would blame Niebuhr for Comey's plight.  Again, difficult realities being heeded don't explain what he did.

TylerR's picture

That skill is at a premium right now. Technical competence is good, management skills and a backbone is something else entirely. This is a pervasive problem, and it will always be a pervasive problem. Some people are technical experts, but aren't capable of leading children to a candy shop. Others are competent, but are also excellent managers who pack battleaxes to work and are willing to cut heads off, if they need to - in the interests of doing the right thing. For a leader of an organization, the latter is best.

Anybody who has worked in any organization, particularly a larger bureaucracy (corporate or government) knows what I'm talking about.  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

TylerR's picture

This just keeps getting worse. It pains me to see an active-duty O-8 like General McMaster have to make excuses for a President who is proving himself to be unequal to the task of being President. For example, look at the recent kerfluffle about whether Trump shared classified information with Russian officials. Every day brings new confirmation of President Trump's ineptitude. Now this, from NBC:

Fired FBI Director James Comey built a paper trail documenting what he believed to be President Donald Trump's campaign to derail the FBI's investigation of alleged Russian ties to his presidential campaign, a source close to Comey told NBC News on Tuesday.

The Times reported that the conversation took place Feb. 14. Times reporter Michael Schmidt told MSNBC that Trump "kicked everybody else out of the room" — including Vice President Mike Pence — and made the request one on one.

I believe this could have happened. I also believe Trump is careless enough to have inadvertently shared higghly classified information with the Russians. I have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I understand the media is hysterically trying to find something, anything, to hang Trump with. In general, I think the alleged "Russian connection" is widely overblown and laughable.

But, the general ineptitude here is staggering. Comey's firing is a prime example. I have no idea if his White House staff is inept, or if the President is inept, or if both are inept. I have great respect and the fullest confidence in Mattis and McMaster to keep the national security ship on an even keel. I also have confidence in Tillerson and Pence. I've never had much confidence in Trump, and I'm rapidly losing what little I did have. This latest story from NBC is bad news, and you know what? I believe he did pressure Comey to drop the inquiry into Flynn. Not good.

This entire administration is a slow-moving trainwreck.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Bert Perry's picture

....how would Trump have prospered in Gotham real estate for all those years?  

I just don't get this. Anybody at the director level or above has got to be aware that people under pressure will create a paper trail in self-defense, especially lawyers like Comey.  I've done it myself.  I can't see how someone could have prospered in New York City--filled with some of the sharpest lawyers on the planet and the Mob as well--without figuring this out.

I'm left remembering Casey Stengel: "Can't anybody here play this game?".   I would call this a rookie mistake, but that would be insulting to rookies.

Joeb's picture

When your talking about upper management in the FBI or any government agency anything is possible.  Bert is right on the money.  I have heard stories about upper management in the FBI that backs everything Bert is saying could have happened.  .  Unfortunately they don't fire the Coach in the government they fire the team unless the Coach is caught with his head in a pound of cocaine. 

In the IRS upper management it is the same way .  They take care of their buddies and go after the people they don't like with a vengeance and break the civil service rules to do it.  I personally stood up to my own management and upper IRS management when they wanted to fire an employee for doing nothing wrong just because they did not like her.  My last words to one of my managers was tell the District Director if he pursues the matter I'll go right to the Employee Union Rep and testify in the Employees favor.  That's how flagrant the thing they were asking me to do.  At that time I was in a position where I was calling the shots regarding unauthorized computer accesses.  I had a team of Internal Audiitors working for me yet one of my Mangers tried to get me to change my opinion because IRS Management wanted to fire the employee.  

I don't know about Comey personally but I do have stories that FBI Agents personally related to me regarding inappropriate conduct by upper FBI Management.   Not necessarily criminal but definitely misconduct or outright racist discrimination.  

Bert Perry's picture

I was hoping you'd argue with me, Joe!  The way I see this is that either Trump is guilty, and he could be impeached if he's got recordings, or Comey is lying, and he could be prosecuted for perjury if Trump's got recordings proving otherwise.  Either way, the 1962 Mets are looking downright competent in comparison.  I just don't get how either one of them got to the point they were at with this kind of thinking.

Maybe I'm thinking about this too much.  Maybe it's simply that in politics, it's about politics, and you can get away with a certain amount, but no more, and people are sort of kept honest by wondering when their opponents will reach "too much."

Update: Gregg Jarrett of Fox News comments that if, as appears to be the case, Comey saw evidence of obstruction of justice but did not report it to the DOJ, he's likely to lose his law license and go to jail himself.  So the plot thickens....

And of course, I'd be happy if a LOT of Washington types went to jail, but that's just me.  :^)

Joeb's picture

Sorry Bert just trying to support your supposition.  In this situation it is one or the other.  Either Comey lied or Trump is trying side track an FBI investigation.

Trump admittedly did some wrong moves.  First of all he never should have asked Comey if he (Trump) was under investigation.  That puts Comey in a bad position and professionally it's inappropriate.  

Second Comey should have never answered the question yeah or neah if he even did. Comey should have stood Trump up for even asking the question.  Comey's  answer should have been I can't comment on anything the FBI is doing regarding the Russian matter whether you are or are not.  End of story.  Also if Trump was trying to get Comey to drop the case on Flynn that was wrong to.  Trump can keep Flynn out of jail if it ever came to that.  

All this is going to be sorted out and all Parties are going to have to wait it out.  They sorted out the Nixon thing.   I can say that if the allegations are confirmed that Trump and his people colluded with the Russians in the hack and influencing the election we may see our first President go to jail.  Plus it could set the stage for a new election possible.   Not just Pence stepping in.  If true the Democrats will come roaring back and from in Republican ring CRUZ and Kasiek are going to look like heros and the Christian Right will look like a bunch of Buffoons for supporting Trump.    

Joeb's picture

Wow!!!!   This means Paul Ryan and the other Congressman must have saw enough information that indicated the allegations held weight.   Not even a blink by the Republicans or any resistance.   Just boom a Special Prosecutor.   If Trump gets impeached and the basis of the Impeachment is collusion with the Russians then even Pence may be unacceptable as President.  Meaning either Paul Ryan or a Special reelection would be run.   YIKES!!!!!!!!!    

Aaron Blumer's picture

It's taking a little longer than I thought it might.
Would not like to see Pence go down in the fallout... not because he's apparently a Christian, but because he seems to be competent and of good character, and was on the ticket. This would be a better transition.

Joeb's picture

One of my Christian friends pointed the above out.  Quickly prove the Trump allegations are untrue and then pivot and go after Hillary and the leakers .  

The Democrats opened the door so the Republicans may have decided to drive through.  Anything Comey was involved in would be fair game to the Special Prosecutor.  It may be like  one of those Law and Order shows where the defense Attorneys mistakenly opened a door which allowed the Prosecution to admit evidence or testimony that otherwise would not have been allowed.  I guess we will see.  

Aaron hopefully if it came to that Pence would replace Trump.  If not Paul Ryan would replace Trump and I like him a whole lot. Both are real smart guys and believers and friends.  

Bert Perry's picture

I believe that Jeff Sessions said that he'd recuse himself from any involvement in this during his confirmation hearings, so I'm not even sure that this has anything to do with Ryan or the Comey memo.  I think this is simply Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein getting together and saying that "we can't be part of this unless we want the feeding frenzy on our boss to continue."  I also wouldn't be surprised if Trump himself send a note to Sessions telling him to go ahead because there isn't much to find.  Rosenstein would also be able to comment on whether much had been found yet and confirm or deny that this was a good idea.

So I'm skeptical, not last because there was a candidate who had already given up the farm to Russia, who was in favor of reducing domestic oil production and against expansion of the military, and who had a private server that presumably gave Russia a treasure trove of blackmail opportunities--that candidate was of course Hillary Clinton.  It's also come out that one big source for the WikiLeaks memos that helped sink her was a Democratic activist.  So exactly what Russia had to gain from Trump is beyond me.  

I anticipate that Mueller will find at least one "Scooter Libby" foolish enough to talk without his lawyer present, and otherwise it's going to be just like John Danforth's "investigation" of Waco, that "mysteriously" failed to find any wrongdoing at the FBI despite that agency "losing" the front door, videotapes, FLIR cameras, and a lot more evidence.  

Joeb's picture

 Very good way of looking at it Bert.  I never thought of it that way. Good.  You might be right on the money.  I like it.  

Bert Perry's picture

....that Comey's notes and Trump's recordings ought to be subpoenaed, and I wouldn't be sad if both of them went to jail if that's where the evidence goes.  For that matter, if the subpoenas reveal nothing, I will relish the shame that will rightly go to the New York Times in such a case. 

Reality here, IMO, is that politics these days has become blood sport where the obviously guilty skate and good men are brutalized.  We need to help the process by keeping our eyes on the ball and being sober in how we respond to the news--the pattern these days is that anonymous sources which cannot be corroborated or easily refuted become a ball that provacateurs run with to their heart's content.   At certain points, we simply need to say "oh, another anonymous source....ho hum".

 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

We're eye to eye on all that. Really tired of the whole anon sources thing... and if this all turns out to be nothing, the public will be--voluntarily or otherwise--much more calloused toward these kinds of stories in the future.