by Amie Parnes · April 16, 2018
Allies and advisers to Hillary Clinton can finally agree with President Trump on one thing: former FBI Director James Comey is no hero.
After reading excerpts from Comey’s new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” and watching his first interview since being fired, with ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday night, former aides on the Clinton campaign are collectively gnashing their teeth.
“Of course they’re upset,” said Patti Solis Doyle, who served as Clinton’s campaign manager during her 2008 presidential bid. “How could you not be if you worked on that campaign?”
“I think he displayed unreliably poor judgment in the Clinton investigation by bucking [Department of Justice] procedures and having a press conference when there were no charges brought, and I think he has displayed incredibly poor judgment in the timing of this book before the end of the [Robert] Mueller investigation,” she added.
While much of the coverage generated by Comey’s book has centered on his feud with Trump, Clinton allies are focused on his disclosures about the 2016 election.
They are particularly incensed by Comey’s acknowledgment that, when deciding how to handle the investigation into Clinton’s email server, he took into account polls showing she would win the White House.
“Nobody is satisfied with anything he’s been saying,” said one longtime Clinton adviser. “We thought that Comey was always a factor in her loss, but now nobody can deny that perceptions were changed because of it.”
“I’ve made peace with it, but it’s still a punch in the gut,” the adviser said.
Clinton and her allies have argued that Comey helped swing the election to Trump when he announced in late October 2016 that he was reopening the FBI’s email investigation. He made that decision after new emails were uncovered on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, the husband of longtime Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
John Podesta, who served as the campaign’s chairman, said on Twitter that Comey’s letter to lawmakers in 2016 that informed them that the FBI was reopening the investigation was “one of the worst errors of judgment in post-Hoover FBI history,” referring to former Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Over the weekend, Jennifer Palmieri, who served as Clinton’s communications director, told CNN that Comey worked “very clearly outside of the bounds of how the FBI is supposed to operate.”
And on Monday morning, hours after the ABC interview aired, former Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill took to Twitter and ripped Comey for the July 2016 press conference where the FBI chief scolded Clinton for her “extremely careless” use of a private server.
Merrill questioned Comey’s use of the word maybe — 37 times — during the ABC interview. “For a lawyer and law enforcement professional at the highest levels, it’s a curious tactic, but useful when talking to press, allowing him to avoid having to be too definitive about anything,” Merrill wrote in a thread of tweets about Comey.
“So here we are,” Merrill wrote. “With more questions than we started and fewer answers. Just 37 maybes and reopened wounds and every sign that hubris won the day and put the most self-involved, destructive leader the U.S. has ever known into the Oval Office.”
“At the end of the day Hillary Clinton used her own email address. No laws were broken, no one was hurt, our national security wasn’t threatened. It was a dumb mistake and a far dumber scandal, as she herself has said many times,” he wrote.
Yet Comey’s book did bring one damaging disclosure for the Clinton camp: It reveals that advisers to Clinton were wrong when they insisted in the summer of 2015 that the FBI had not opened a criminal investigation into Clinton’s email server, as was reported by The New York Times.
Clinton aides forced the Times to make corrections to their story, but the original report “was much closer to the mark,” Comey wrote.
“By the time of the news story, we had a full criminal investigation open, focused on the secretary’s conduct,” Comey wrote.
Palmieri told the Times she was unaware of the criminal investigation when she and other aides wrote a lengthy statement denying the Times story.
Clinton allies have focused on other lines in the book where Comey accounts for his handling of the email probe — and in particular, his acknowledgment that politics played a role in his decision to announce that the investigation was being reopened.
“It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls,” Comey wrote.
During his interview on ABC, Comey also said he “should’ve worked harder to find a way to convey” at the July press conference that Clinton’s use of a personal email server is “more than just the ordinary mistake, but it’s not criminal behavior.”
“One has to wonder if the strong rhetoric he uses about President Trump is fueled in part by a sense that he may have been responsible for helping elect him,” one longtime Clinton adviser surmised.
Still, some Clinton allies don’t blame her loss on Comey.
Tracy Sefl, who served as a surrogate for Clinton’s 2016 bid, said that while she can “recognize and rue the role of Comey’s actions” in the outcome, it wasn’t the only factor that made Trump president.
“I have long believed most voters had made their decisions before then,” Sefl said. “The ultimate Electoral College loss cannot be attributed to swaths of voters in, say, Wisconsin, who’d been riveted to that saga’s every cable news and Twitter twist and turn.”
Solis Doyle acknowledged that no one will ever know if Comey’s decision to reopen the inquiry into Clinton’s emails was the decisive factor in her defeat.
“But if it convinced one person to stay home, it had an effect on the election,” she said.
Added the longtime Clinton adviser: “Sometimes the history of the world turns on the choices of one person.”
The Hill · by Amie Parnes · April 16, 2018