The president of Vulgaria, Donald Trump, isn’t necessarily a favorite of FBI director James Comey. Although the American security and police communities tend to support Republican candidates and Comey himself is an avowed Republican, this year most veterans of the legal and intelligence community have opposed Trump, believing he does not have the background or ability to be the commander-in-chief of the nuclear power and presumptive leader of the world.
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There’s no reason to assume that Comey is any different. Like other prominent officials and adherents of his party with military, diplomatic, intelligence and strategic experience who have warned of the disaster facing America if Trump is elected, he, who is responsible for fighting terror and espionage as well as investigating major crimes, understands what’s at stake at the polls next week.
The large spoke he put into the Hillary Clinton’s wheels of victory won’t be enough to stop her but could well reduce her coattails enough to keep the Democrats from regaining control of Congress, leaving Washington paralyzed by the warring branches of government. His motive was a personal grudge that Comey has held against Bill Clinton for a decade and a half, along with fresh residue from the investigation he closed this summer against Hillary.
Comey, who was appointed by incumbent President Barack Obama, is not against Democrats, he’s against the Clintons. It’s an emotional, visceral issue that has ruined efforts by the FBI since the 1970s to rid itself of the legacy of its mythical director J. Edgar Hoover and the threat posed by his secret files on politicians, who didn’t know exactly what he knew about them, and how he could hit their weak points.
After Hoover’s passing and following the Watergate scandal, the term of the FBI director was restricted to a single decade, with an eye to conveying both independence and stability. Ten years automatically means the director serves more than one administration; the president who names the director will retire before the director does and the party in power could even change during the director’s term. Hoover’s power stemmed from the length of his tenure, which spanned 48 years under nine presidents. Young people who began their paths in politics and kept at it until they reached the top, found Hoover still there as if from the beginning of time; they encountered him from various angles, under him and over him, as targets and as clients.
The FBI director has always had three political masters; two individuals (the president and the attorney general) and Congress. The FBI director maneuvers among the three, while in the background there are other candidates for the presidency, often rivals of the incumbent, and in Comey’s case, a former president whose wife stands on the threshold of the White House. Comey, who is as tall as basketball star LeBron James, usually towers over his surroundings, but when it comes to intrigue he’s a dwarf compared to Hoover.
So now we come to another chapter in the tangled history of the FBI and politicians, a history that continues to hit at its characters with the publication of classified documents on the FBI website, where the wolf dwells with the lamb, where Golda Meir appears alongside Ariel Sharon (both were targets of assassination threats during respective visits to New York), along with gangsters and spies, and Fred-father-of-Donald Trump and Bill-husband-of-Hillary Clinton. Almost everything in these files is censored and what’s left after all of the redactions is mostly information already in the public domain, along with a rumor here and speculation there. For example, is it true that at a certain restaurant, at a time and place hidden from the reader, a group of people sat to discuss pardoning Marc Rich? That was Section C-14 of the FBI’s New York branch, the fraud squad of greater Manhattan at work; “C” could stand for corruption, but it could also stand for Clinton.
As a prosecutor in the 1970s and 1980s, Comey led, with increasing frustration, a global hunt for Rich and Pinchas Green, businessmen and financiers who fled the country as they were about to be indicted for tax evasion and doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. They repeatedly managed to avoid extradition. Israel admired Rich, who helped the Mossad and contributed to many Israeli institutions. When Bill Clinton granted Rich and Green pardons during his last hours in office on January 20, 2001, Comey, who by then was working in the private sector, was one of many who were infuriated by that decision. The Republicans cried foul; Rich, they said, had been a Clinton donor. No one believed Clinton’s claim that he was responding to clemency pleas from then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and since he had no plans to pardon Jonathan Pollard, he couldn’t leave Barak empty-handed.
There was considerable criticism of Bill Clinton on both substantive and procedural grounds. Comey and others demanded to know why Clinton had circumvented the customary procedure of submitting the pardon to the Justice Department for review, and instead relied solely on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
Comey returned to public service as a prosecutor who, inter alia, investigated the last-minute pardon of Rich, until finally investigators determined there was no evidence of criminal activity and the file was closed. During this period, and later when Comey served as deputy attorney general under President George W. Bush, Holder remained politically isolated. But Obama, when he was elected president, hastened to appoint Holder as attorney general. The appointment met stiff resistance from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
To Holder’s aid came none other than Comey, who told the senators – and in this case the Republicans were particularly important – that the attorney-general designee was an excellent appointment, even though he had committed a serious error in judgment in the Clinton-Rich case. In a letter to the committee, Comey described Holder as “a smart, decent, humble man [whose] error should not disqualify him.”
During the next stage, President Clinton will assemble her administration and appoint cabinet secretaries, officials, senior military officers and judges; the FBI will do background checks on them and may invalidate some of them; and Comey will have to decide whether to remain in his post until 2023, which means he could still be there after Clinton if she serves only one term.