James Comey Wrap-up: Benghazi and the Press Were to Blame Too


Many of you only read this blog on weekdays. That’s OK. I understand that my random musings may be better than filling out yet another TPS report but not as good as doing actual fun stuff. However, sometimes this means you miss some good posts.

For example: James Comey. On Saturday, in a very long post, I made the case that Comey was the decisive factor in Hillary Clinton’s loss, not Clinton herself or her campign. You should read it! And this too.

Right after I wrote that, the New York Times published a detailed story about why Comey did what he did. My take on the Times piece was simple: “At every step of the way, Comey demonstrated either his fear of crossing Republicans or his concern over protecting his own reputation from Republican attack.” You should read this too!

Today, to wrap things up, I want to highlight a couple of additional points. Several people suggested that although Comey screwed up, I should have also mentioned the role the press played in this. I don’t want to relitigate the entire campaign, but Nate Silver makes a pithy point about how the press handled the Comey letter:

From the time Comey’s letter went public to the time he (once again) exonerated Hillary Clinton, Clinton’s emails were the top news story in 12 out of 14 news cycles even though there was zero evidence that the emails were either new or incriminating or interesting in any way. Even after years of being taken for a ride on this stuff, the press just couldn’t get enough. All you had to do was breathe something about new emails and they went nuts.

Second, Mike Tomasky makes a point about Comey that I only touched on because my posts were already so long. Here it is:

Fear of political fallout seems to have motivated almost everything he did. Kevin Drum made this point over the weekend. But Drum didn’t emphasize what is to me the most telling thing, which is that there is one group Comey appears not to have feared at all: Democrats.

….The Times talked to 30 people, and apparently the idea that Comey may have feared how the Democrats would react to any action of his just wasn’t brought up. Amazing. Remember what the guy did: He excoriated Clinton’s ethics; he announced a reopening of an investigation 11 days before the election with no evidence that there was any reason to think Anthony Weiner’s laptop would revealing a smoking gun (it did not, as Comey subsequently announced); and finally, he kept from the public the fact that his bureau was also investigating the other presidential candidate.

And through it all, he was worried about what Republicans would do to him, but apparently never concerned about how Democrats would react to anything he did.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years mocking the Republican Benghazi obsession, but this is where it paid off. After four years of this stuff, of course Comey was afraid he’d be the target of endless hearings if Clinton won and it later turned out there was something in the emails. But if Trump won and there was nothing in the emails? People like me would write some critical blog posts. Democrats here and there would mutter about Comey interfering in the election. But that would be it. Republicans had a well-developed reputation as ravening pit bulls. Democrats had a well-developed reputation as occasionally irritable poodles. Everybody wrings their hands over this, but it worked out pretty well for Republicans, didn’t it?