Donald Trump called James Comey a “slimeball,” which is not a very presidential way to talk. But just this time we might have to forgive the president. James Comey really is a slimeball. Just about everybody says so.
The critics of his book, finally out Monday after the weekend news accounts had already begun squeezing the juice out of it, joined in a rare unanimous appraisal of the man who wrote the book. He’s a windbag, a hack, a blowhard, a swaggering pretender, a churl and the hindquarters of a horse.
Some of the critics, who are paid by the word to deliver their daily jibes at the Donald, say they find in Mr. Comey just the qualities they find in the president, pettiness, insecurity, runaway ego and need for affirmation. Columnist Alexandra Petri spoofs Mr. Comey’s sanctimony in The Washington Post for his references to the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God, and then, on Dec. 14, 1960, I, James Comey was born.”
Another critic, Carlos Lozada, whose full-time job is reminding everyone that he hates the president almost as much as he ought to, pokes fun at Mr. Comey for lying about playing collegiate basketball for the College of William and Mary and then for chastising himself for the lie. It’s such liberating fun. “The very D.C. collision of the trivial and the sanctimonious in Comey’s personality is irresistibly funny,” observes Kyle Smith in the National Review. “He’s James Comedy.”
One reviewer’s work is titled “Why Comey Isn’t the Hero You Think He is,” a brilliant work of understatement second only to the essay of Alex Shepard in New Republic magazine, asking “Is Comey Helping?” Mr. Shepard does not label this as satire, but it’s satire worthy of Evelyn Waugh on a roll: “It’s unclear whether the book and its accompanying media blitz have moved the needle of public opinion in his favor.”
Mr. Comey stands exposed, like a man locked out of his house retrieving the morning paper, trying not to look the fool in his underwear, a fraud guilty of coming up short of more than literary pretension. Mr. Comey concedes that he betrayed the oath he took as the nation’s No. 1 G-man to collude with himself to fix the 2016 presidential election. After first laying out the case for filing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for breaches of national security and then failing to do anything with those charges, he re-opened the case against her on the eve of the election when he discovered incriminating new evidence on the laptop of the husband of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aide.
With no reputation left, he lays out the ashes of it in his book, explaining how he consulted the polls to decide whether to reopen the inquiry into Hillary’s low sins and high misdemeanors:
“It’s entirely possible,” he writes, “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 [and] Donald Trump were ahead in all polls.”
This an astonishing admission of a man who was the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. And we thought J. Edgar Hoover was a blight on the office. The U.S. Supreme Court always follows the election returns, in that hoary bit of prevailing political science, but this is a new one. The FBI follows not the election returns, but the Gallup Poll.
“It’s the exact opposite of how you would hope and expect someone refereeing a political criminal investigation to think,” observes Kyle Smith in National Review. “You want him to say, ‘damn the politics, I had to do what was right, and what was right was transparency. The people had a right to know what was going on. Criminal investigators don’t look at polling data.”
But of course they do. Mr. Comey’s tell-all book may be unique in the history of tell-all books because he’s telling all on himself. He has a lot to tell. He was doing what he thought was necessary to elect Hillary Clinton.
The pundits and reviewers, who still just can’t get over losing the election and are doing it all over Mr. Comey’s book, are trying one more time to relieve their frustration and anger. This book was supposed to be the bombshell (No. 124 fired since Election Day 2016) that would render the Trump presidency to rags, tatters and viscera. Robert Mueller would only have to clean up the mess in the street.
How can it be that Donald Trump is still standing, still waiting to take the garlic bullet.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.