J Edgar Hoover ran the FBI as if it were his private secret police force. He exceeded his authority, and spied on, blackmailed, harassed, intimidated, and threatened everyone. He became politically unstoppable. He was in power for 48 years. Though hated and feared by several presidents (all of whom had the power to fire him) none dared to oppose him. The only thing that removed Hoover from power was death. The man was a monster.
James Comey was the Director of the FBI. He was fired yesterday. He wasn’t remotely as bad as Hoover.
Life is cruel. Sometimes it puts you on the horns of a dilemma. If you do the right thing… you’re fucked. If you do the wrong thing… you’re fucked.
Regardless of his flaws or merits, recent events gave Comey a shit sandwich. There’s no good answer for the role he had to play. What the hell would you do?
Imagine that you’re the head of the FBI. The most powerful nation in the world is trying to democratically elect it’s next leader, who will be your boss. The shit has been hitting the fan all year. Now it’s getting worse.
Your staff shows up with incontrovertible evidence that the leading candidate engaged in serious shitweaseling. This would sink any other person on earth, including you. Normally this would lead to a trial and very possibly time in “Federal pound me in the ass prison“. But this is the favored presidential candidate we’re talking about!
You’re sick with worry. You’re not hungry but you eat a stale donut left from the morning briefing. This information has you trapped.
Do you proceed? Recommend criminal prosecution for a person who’s acted criminally based on the overwhelming evidence of crime? Normally you would, but the other candidate is an orange tinted blowhard who makes everyone in DC break out in hives. The press is screaming that the guy is “literally Hitler”. Whatever you do will influence the election. Who needs this shit? Three hundred million people in the US and they couldn’t come up with two who are squeaky clean?
The donut went down badly. You remind yourself to have a doctor tweak your blood pressure meds. Your secretary is making Vince Foster jokes behind your back. The punchline is “assisted suicide”. You know there’s an office pool; they’re betting on whether you’ll be transferred to Guam or a windowless office in the basement. This job sucks!
The evidence of malfeasance on your desk grows. Objectively, it’s much worse than Watergate. You can say it’s literally bigger than Watergate and be using the word “literally” properly.
Do you wanna’ be Dudley Do Right and send this on for prosecution? Are you sure? The criminal in question is really good at getting away with stuff and she’s probably going to be your boss!
You pour yourself a stiff drink, toss it back, and wait. Nope, shit sandwich didn’t go away.
Also, her husband, an ex-president (!), who was disbarred in his own scandal (!!), had an illicit meeting with the Attorney General of the United States (!!!). This is the woman who will, or won’t, prosecute the case. And the criminal in question is probably going to be her boss too! Of course, they all fucked up. They got caught by the press when they parked huge private jets next to each other. Who brings a goddamn jet to a conspiratorial meeting? It they had half a brain they’d find a way to have illicit meetings covertly! It’s like they want to get caught. What the hell is wrong with people?
Your stomach aches. You take an antacid. Shit sandwich is still there… weighing on you.
An idea occurs to you. You’re in the spy business; you know all sorts of secret shit. Why not bury the evidence? Pretend like it didn’t happen.
But noooooo. Fucking evidence is erupting everywhere. You shake your head in disbelief, criminals ought to know about cloud file storage, backups, etc… but this one didn’t. Copies of e-mails are showing up everywhere! Thumbdrives, forensics on a “homebrew server”, and… the phone rings.
What the hell could make this worse? Did she gut a kitten on Facebook. Seriously, it’s like she’s trying to give you an ulcer.
You hang up the phone with a sigh. Now there’s more evidence. It’s on a pervert’s laptop. This particular pervert is a disgraced Congressman who lost his office when his hobby of sending photos of his schlong got out of hand. In addition to photos of his dick, he’s got a pile of possibly classified information. Seriously? This is the level of bullshit this job entails?
The antacids aren’t working. You’ve got a headache now too.
Your staff informs you that the pervert is married to the problematic candidate’s campaign manager. She’s been at the candidate’s side since she was an intern, back in ’96. So while the husband (and President) was boinking one intern, this other one started orbiting the wife (and First lady, and then Senator, and then Secretary of State). Eventually she married a perv who’s got files that come from…
You excuse yourself to head for the restroom and toss your cookies. Mama said there’d be days like this.
There’s a press event in an hour.
Think of something. Think of it fast.
If Comey was like a certain irrelevant and obscure blogger he’d give up and light the fuse. Have an epic ten minute press conference composed of mostly swearing and hand out all (or most) of the relevant evidence. I don’t think like secret squirrel people. I don’t want to be the sole possessor of any potential president’s dirty laundry! The whole thing would end with something like “Fuck it. These people aren’t just criminals, they’re idiots. I don’t care what you do with this information because I quit. I’m going fishing.”
This explains why my life is nothing like a DC elite’s life. A guy like me would never have made it that far. I’d be miserable there and they’d be miserable having me.
Comey is more nuanced. He tried to to bend, to flex, to ride out the storm. He sought to thread the needle with press conferences like this: “There’s a metric assload of evidence but… well… look at her… there’s gonna’ be flying monkeys and shit if we prosecute. Who wants that?” This had the right braying for his head while the left smugly smiled. (Over time everyone started accepting the evidence… the real anger came about what to do, or not do, about the big meanie who delivered the news.) Then, after the perv perved out even more files, he tried again “OK there’s more evidence and it’s like super-bad y’all. I’m just sayin’.” And the left started braying for his head while the right sighed and thought “finally”. (Again, nobody seemed to ponder that the candidate in question could have avoided politically damaging revelations by refraining from committing crimes or just backed off on stupidly emailing compromising data all over creation.)
Sadly, after the election it continued. I expected this, though I’d hoped for better. The now soundly rejected candidate occasionally emerged from her cave to pronounce that it wasn’t poor performance or corruption that bonked her presidential bid; it was this one particular asshole who rudely investigated. (Oddly, that’s part of his job title. It comes after “Federal Bureau of”.) It sounded to me like this: “And it would have worked too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids”.
Through it all Comey kept trying to straddle the fence, avoid hard calls, strike a balance… until the boss, our orange haired literal Hitler, acted like a real president. He understood that the head of the FBI isn’t Yoda; it’s not his job to “strike a balance”. One brief announcement: “You’re fired. Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out.” That’s how it’s done!
It was a wise decision. Even if Comey didn’t cause his world to be surrounded by corruption, it was his choice to play politics with the pigs in the sty. Even if he didn’t do (most of) the deeds that look bad and keep trickling out (information will ooze out for years), he failed to preserve his impartiality. Maybe there’s no good way he could have handled the mess, short of walking away. Regardless he didn’t walk away from what became the Kobayashi Maru and was doomed by it. The more he tried to split differences and strike balances the closer he came to unredeemable. Best to spare him, and us, that terrible fate. The president of 2017 might have nipped a nascent Hoover in the bud. Would that Franklin D. Roosevelt had done the same with his troublesome FBI leader.
DiploMad 2.0 has pithy observation. As soon as the FBI Director is a source of public discussion to the point where you remember his name, that’s proof the FBI Director sucks at his job. I had to add it here (emphasis mine):
“Forget the contradictory statements about the Russians, forget even, if you can, about the weird “investigation” into Hillary’s home-brewed server, forget about WikiLeaks, also forget about Comey’s lackadaisical attitude towards the leaking of classified information. All those are reasons to dump Comey, no doubt, but, I think Comey’s greatest sin was that we all know who he is.
…The FBI Director should not, IMHO, be a media personality much less an obvious political actor…”
Read the whole thing.
Incidentally the list of Directors is here. Between Hoover (a monster) and McCabe (appointed 3 days ago). Almost none of them ring a bell. I dimly recall William Sessions who was at the wheel during Ruby Ridge and Waco… but can’t dredge up more than a name. Sessions was fired by President Clinton. I note that out of 12, post-Hoover Directors two were fired and only one lasted through a full 10 year term.
Apparently Trump isn’t the only one who learned the Hoover lesson!
P.S. I can’t harp on Hoover enough. The man was a barnacle! The Hoover era lasted from to 1924 – 1972! He came to power when refrigerators were just coming into American homes (no freezers though) and he died in office when we had probes orbiting Mars. Men like that are dangerous.