It didn’t take long for Democrats to go from praising FBI Director James Comey to attempting to paint him as Ken Starr.
For those who weren’t around in the 1990s, this is standard operating procedure. If Comey feels like he is under fire today, my only advice to him is to gear up for the next week to be a living hell. In the immortal words of Ronald Reagan, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”
Still, I’m of the opinion that Comey did the right thing, with the caveat that he was put in an unwinnable situation. And before we string him up, I think he deserves a fair defense. With just days to go before the election, here are some reasons why I think Comey deserves the benefit of the doubt:
This is a crisis of Hillary Clinton’s own making. Comey did not force Clinton to set up a private server, delete 33,000 emails or mislead the public about the classified information she sent via e-mail.
Moreover, he did not instruct Clinton aide Huma Abedin to marry Anthony Weiner or to avoid alerting authorities about e-mails on his “device” (a laptop) — the accidental discovery of which provoked this last-minute “October surprise” revelation.
Comey’s critics fail to appreciate the wretched options that Clinton’s poor decisions have thrust upon him. Imagine what would happen had Comey chosen not to notify Congress about the discovery of new information that appears to be “pertinent” until after the election. It would seriously call into question the integrity of the FBI and confirm the suspicion that the game was, in fact, rigged for Clinton. It’s not like there is a reservoir of trust or goodwill built up with the American public.
Sentiment toward institutions like the media and the government has been eroding during the past four decades. Both candidates have been complicit in expediting this erosion — Donald Trump touting irresponsible rhetoric about the election being primitively “rigged,” and Clinton’s husband holding a private meeting on an airport tarmac with Attorney General Loretta Lynch (just days before the FBI decided not to pursue criminal prosecution of Hillary Clinton) are both prime examples.
Ultimately, Comey was left with two bad decisions — either of which could have potential electoral consequences. If he informs Congress about this new discovery, he risks unfairly influencing the election. But it’s fair to say that withholding this information might also negatively affect the election.
This might be hard for Clinton supporters to do, but imagine if it were Donald Trump being investigated, and the FBI had stumbled upon some new potential evidence in the case. The people currently flaying Comey for interfering in this election would now be praising him for courageously pursuing truth, justice and transparency. After all, they would argue, “No man is above the law.” Especially not someone we are about to entrust with the presidency.
Despite all the hand-wringing, it’s unclear how much this will even impact the presidential race. A lot of what we know about Clinton and Trump is “baked into the cake,” meaning that voters who care about Clinton’s e-mail issue are probably already voting for Trump. In some states, nearly half of the votes have already been cast — meaning that it’s possible a mid-October surprise might actually be more damaging than a late one.
This raises another question: At what point is it too late for the FBI to inform Congress? Is Oct. 15 OK, but Oct. 16 is out of bounds?
So, where does that leave us? It would be irresponsible to call on the FBI to release all of these e-mails — which number in the thousands — before vetting them. It is obviously possible, and perhaps even likely, that these e-mails involve things more sensitive than “yoga” or conversations about planning Chelsea’s wedding.
Having said that, it strikes me that this should become a top priority for the FBI. Director Comey should expedite this process and let us know if there is anything “there” there before Election Day.
Matt K. Lewis is a columnist at Roll Call, a senior contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter: @MattKLewis.