Bob Rae on FBI director Comey’s bad judgment,
Canadians will recall the bizarre decision of RCMP Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli to respond publicly to an open letter he received from an NDP member of Parliament in the middle of the 2005-06 election campaign.
Why bizarre? Because it’s a long-standing policy of both police agencies and their political bosses never to comment on the nature or even the existence of their investigations.
The police and many others receive information all the time — tips, letters, complaints, you name it. They have an obligation to follow up, but very few of these result in charges, and often the people named in a complaint are found to be entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. It would be grossly unfair to make a public announcement of every complaint or allegation.
In the Martin/Harper election, the formal announcement of an investigation into whether someone used inside information to benefit financially caused an immediate shift in the polls to the Conservatives.
Ralph Goodale faced the embarrassment of a visit from the RCMP in the middle of his campaign at his campaign office in Regina. Goodale, his staff, the PMO, were all cleared of any wrongdoing and eventually a public servant was charged. But the damage was done and it gave the Conservatives a toehold in government that was extended by election wins in 2008 and 2011.
Zaccardelli was rightly criticized, but after the Harper win he soon moved on to a new job at Interpol in France.
The decision of FBI Director James Comey to write Congress two weeks ago that the FBI was reviewing “new information” about Hillary Clinton’s emails had a dramatic effect on the presidential campaign — and has changed the tenor and tone of the final days. On the Sunday before the election, he wrote another letter saying the “review” would not lead to any charges against Secretary Clinton.
There will be many theories about this, but based on personal experience I have developed a basic rule in analyzing decisions. When faced with a choice between a conspiracy and a screw-up in explaining a bizarre decision, pick the screw-up every time.
I don’t believe Zaccardelli or Comey deliberately intervened to affect the outcome of an election. But I do believe they made mistakes in judgment — however motivated — that unfairly affected highly charged elections.
To suggest that transparency required them to share information about an investigation with the public is simply untrue — in fact quite the opposite. The integrity of investigations often requires that their very existence remains unknown.
Based on many different reports, it is clear many in the FBI bear a personal animus against Hillary Clinton. James Comey himself was counsel to a Senate Whitewater investigation as well as a George W. Bush-appointed “reviewer” of president Bill Clinton’s decision to pardon Marc Rich.
Rudy Giuliani, who has become an outspoken advocate of Donald Trump, said he received information about the emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s computer. Comey may have felt pushed to go public by his inability to control his own organization’s behaviour. This raises issues about the integrity of policing and law enforcement.
The last-minute letter from Comey that Clinton won’t be charged comes too late to undo the damage caused by the first blunder and only raises further questions that guarantee his departure from office. It is simply not possible to have confidence in his judgment.
About a quarter of the predicted electorate has already voted — some directly affected by the 10-day “investigation” — and the news that Hillary Clinton has been “cleared” may or may not affect the choices of the 100 million expected to vote on election day.
But the embittered and divided nature of the American polity has been further soured by the way this has been handled and only fuels the conspiracy theories that now infect social media on a minuteby-minute basis.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, people will be talking about this one for a long time.
To suggest that transparency required the FBI to share information about an investigation with the public is simply untrue — in fact quite the opposite
After FBI Director James Comey’s mistake, it is simply not possible to have confidence in his judgment, Bob Rae writes.
Bob Rae is a partner at Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP and teaches at the University of Toronto.