No ‘rea­son­able per­son’ can dis­agree with Jim Comey

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— Jim Comey knows how to spin a yarn.

Nine years ago, I sat in a Se­nate hear­ing room and watched Comey, the for­mer No. 2 of­fi­cial in Ge­orge W. Bush’s Jus­tice Depart­ment, tell a tale wor­thy of Tom Clancy about how White House coun­sel Al­berto Gon­za­les and Chief of Staff Andy Card staged a late-night am­bush of At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Ashcroft, who lay in in­ten­sive care at Ge­orge Washington Hos­pi­tal.

Tipped off that the White House of­fi­cials were try­ing to get Ashcroft to sign off on an eaves­drop­ping plan that Comey had ruled legally in­de­fen­si­ble, Comey raced to the hos­pi­tal with his se­cu­rity de­tail, lights flash­ing, then ran to Ashcroft’s bed­side.

WASHINGTON

“The door opened and in walked Mr. Gon­za­les, car­ry­ing an en­ve­lope, and Mr. Card,” Comey told the spell­bound sen­a­tors. They were pre­pared to ma­nip­u­late the in­ca­pac­i­tated at­tor­ney gen­eral into sign­ing off on the eaves­drop­ping.

But Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pil­low and in very strong terms ex­pressed his view of the mat­ter” — that Comey was right, he tes­ti­fied. “And as he laid back down, he said, ‘But that doesn’t mat­ter, be­cause I’m not the at­tor­ney gen­eral. There is the at­tor­ney gen­eral.’ And he pointed to me.” Gon­za­les and Card walked away with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing Comey.

The episode el­e­vated Comey to le­gal hero, a pic­ture of rec­ti­tude who fol­lowed the rule of law above party pol­i­tics and per­sonal risk. The per­for­mance likely won him the job as FBI direc­tor in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, even though he was a top Re­pub­li­can ap­pointee.

On Tues­day morn­ing, Comey per­formed a se­quel, sum­mon­ing the press to FBI head­quar­ters and de­liv­er­ing his long-awaited de­ci­sion on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails. It was nearly as grip­ping as his tale of hos­pi­tal-bed con­tretemps. Six-foot-eight-inches tall and in a no-non­sense busi­ness suit with blue shirt and yel­low tie, he be­gan promptly at 11:01 a.m., then de­liv­ered, over the next 13 min­utes, a pow­er­ful re­buke of Clin­ton’s con­duct:

Clin­ton or her col­leagues “were ex­tremely care­less in their han­dling of very sen­si­tive, highly clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.”

A “rea­son­able per­son in Sec­re­tary Clin­ton’s po­si­tion, or in the po­si­tion of those ... with whom she was cor­re­spond­ing about th­ese mat­ters should have known that an un­clas­si­fied sys­tem was no place for that con­ver­sa­tion.”

Fifty-two “email chains have been de­ter­mined by the own­ing agency to con- tain clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion at the time they were sent or re­ceived. Eight of those chains con­tained in­for­ma­tion that was top se­cret.”

“The FBI also dis­cov­ered sev­eral thou­sand work-re­lated emails that were not in the group of 30,000 that were re­turned by Sec­re­tary Clin­ton.”

“Hos­tile ac­tors gained ac­cess to the pri­vate com­mer­cial email ac­counts of peo­ple with whom Sec­re­tary Clin­ton was in reg­u­lar con­tact. ... It is pos­si­ble that hos­tile ac­tors gained ac­cess to Sec­re­tary Clin­ton’s per­sonal email account.”

Then, and only then, did Comey sound the deathknell for the Clin­ton email scan­dal.

“Although there is ev­i­dence of po­ten­tial vi­o­la­tions of the statutes re­gard­ing the han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, our judg­ment is that no rea­son­able pros­e­cu­tor would bring such a case,” he said.

“We can­not find a case that would sup­port bring­ing crim­i­nal charges on th­ese facts.”

As such, “we are ex­press­ing to Jus­tice our view that no charges are ap­pro­pri­ate.”

This wasn’t a close call: Not only wasn’t Comey rec­om­mend­ing prose­cu­tion — he was say­ing that any pros­e­cu­tor who did so would be un­rea­son­able.

Much will, and has, been said about what my col­league Chris Cil­lizza de­scribed as Comey’s “dev­as­tat­ing” de­scrip­tion of Clin­ton’s an­tics. Con­versely, many were say­ing be­fore Comey even an­nounced his de­ci­sion that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was rigged to ex­on­er­ate Clin­ton.

But the bot­tom line is that a man whose rep­u­ta­tion for in­tegrity is as unim­peach­able as it gets here in the city of Satan has said un­equiv­o­cally that Clin­ton shouldn’t be pros­e­cuted. And she won’t be, given that Jus­tice Depart­ment pros- ecu­tors have no rea­son to over­rule the FBI.

The ex­on­er­a­tion was some­thing like what Joe Lieber­man gave Bill Clin­ton in 1999 on the Se­nate floor. The moral scold of the Demo­cratic Party could have set off a stam­pede against Clin­ton. Lieber­man called Clin­ton’s be­hav­ior “ir­re­spon­si­ble and im­moral,” rais­ing “se­ri­ous ques­tions about his judg­ment and his re­spect for the high of­fice he holds.” But then Lieber­man said “the facts do not meet the high stan­dard the Founders es­tab­lished for con­vic­tion and re­moval.”

Now, Comey’s op­po­si­tion to prose­cu­tion is what counts, not his words. “Only facts mat­ter,” he said, “and the FBI found them here in an en­tirely apo­lit­i­cal and pro­fes­sional way.”

No rea­son­able per­son can dis­agree with Jim Comey.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@wash­post.com.

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