James Comey feels nauseous about the Clinton emails? That's not enough | Richard Wolffe

Richard Wolffe
FBI director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

James Comey is what the Soviets used to call a useful idiot: someone so full of self-righteous delusions that he cannot tell right from wrong.

Listening to the FBI director explain how and why he interfered with the 2016 election is an astonishing exercise in high-brow justification for low-brow political cowardice.

According to Comey, he had no choice but to tell Congress – in a private letter, he pointed out – that he was re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails after his agents found thousands of them on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.

Telling Congress was a bad option, he claimed in front of the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday. But concealing the new investigation would have been “catastrophic”.

Millions of Americans stand to lose their healthcare. They could help the FBI director understand what nausea means

This is a grand way to describe covering your rear end, but Comey did rupture the clear justice department guidelines that exist to keep investigations confidential and to stay out of an election. So you’ll have to forgive the over-inflated rhetoric: the poor man is trying to salvage what’s left of his name.

In a moment of heroic self-sacrifice, Comey decided his reputation could be shredded to protect the sanctity of the FBI and its political reputation with conservatives. “I knew this would be disastrous for me personally,” he said, “but I thought this is the best way to protect these institutions that we care so much about.”

We are talking about an investigation into the failure to maintain records for the National Archives and the sloppy handling of classified information.

Compare that with the FBI’s investigation into Russian manipulation of the Donald Trump campaign and its hacking of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The determined attempt by a hostile foreign power to control our democracy? That was just another FBI investigation that could remain secret until March, five months after the election.

Why was Comey under such pressure on Clinton? Could it possibly have included taking heat from conservative officials and media, who were obsessed by the runway meeting between former President Bill Clinton and attorney general Loretta Lynch? Could Comey’s perfect judgment have been skewed by his determination to demonstrate his independence from his own boss, appointed by a Democratic president?

We sadly will never know the answers to those pesky questions. Like Edith Piaf, the FBI director regrets nothing.

“Look, this is terrible,” he admitted. “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election. But honestly, it wouldn’t change the decision.”

It’s wonderful to know that Comey feels mildly sick rather than projectile vomiting the contents of his large intestine. The rest of the civilized world can feel his pain, including the residents of Seoul who are currently feeling sick as they stand between several thousand North Korean artillery pieces and the temperament of Trump.

There are millions of Americans who stand to lose their healthcare under the GOP’s plans to repeal Obamacare: plans that have never been subject to a hearing, open debate or a budget scoring. They could also help the FBI director understand what nausea really means.

They all must be deeply reassured that Comey would make the same numbskull decision today that he made six months ago. For Clinton, the impact of Comey’s interventions is not in doubt. “It wasn’t a perfect campaign. There is no such thing,” she said this week. “But I was on the way to winning, until a combination of Jim Comey’s letter on 28 October and Russian WikiLeaks raised doubts in the minds of people who were inclined to vote for me but got scared off.”

So now those voters, along with Comey, have four years of getting scared off by the 45th president of the United States. Thankfully Trump himself is in a generous mood, claiming that Comey did us all a favor, including Clinton herself. “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds!” he tweeted this week. “The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”

Perhaps Trump did. Or perhaps the Trump/Russia story, now under FBI investigation, will be Comey’s last best hope to repair his reputation and the save his beloved Bureau from the permanent stain of the 2016 election.

Otherwise, future FBI directors may look back at Comey’s decisions and wonder what on earth he was doing about foreign spying, corruption and interference in our democracy. Much like Donald Trump looking at the civil war, they may ask themselves: “Why could that one not have been worked out?”

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