If elected, Clin­ton faces awk­ward co­ex­is­tence with Comey

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON >> The re­la­tion­ship be­tween James Comey and Hil­lary Clin­ton was never go­ing to be ten­sion­free, not when Comey’s FBI had con­ducted an elec­tionyear crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date’s email prac­tices.

But Comey’s sud­den an­nounce­ment to Congress that FBI agents would re­view new emails that may be con­nected to that dor­mant in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vives ques­tions about how Clin­ton, if elected, would co­ex­ist with the in­de­pen­dent­minded FBI di­rec­tor. Comey has shown a will­ing­ness to break with the White House and has been crit­i­cal of her han­dling of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion as sec­re­tary of state.

The FBI di­rec­tor is ap­pointed to 10-year terms, to avoid any ap­pear­ance of po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence. Comey took over in Septem­ber 2013, mean­ing he still would be on the job if Clin­ton is sworn into of­fice in Jan­uary. That could raise the prospect of an un­mis­tak­ably frag­ile dy­namic, but it prob­a­bly would not be any eas­ier if Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump won, given his crit­i­cism of the FBI after Comey’s rec­om­men­da­tion in July against pros­e­cut­ing Clin­ton in the email mat­ter.

“There needs to be a mu­tual trust be­tween a pres­i­dent and an FBI di­rec­tor given the im­por­tance of that post,” said Jamie Gore­lick, deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral dur­ing for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Ron Hosko, a for­mer as­sis­tant FBI di­rec­tor un­der Comey, said he en­vi­sioned a “very, very dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship,” but Comey’s abil­ity to com­part­men­tal­ize his du­ties would en­able him to keep do­ing his job.

“Could Jim Comey go over to the White House and brief on ter­ror­ism in­tel­li­gence or a ter­ror­ism strike, and what the bureau is do­ing about it or has done about it, and keep that in a sep­a­rate box? Yes,” Hosko said.

Clin­ton and her cam­paign have ag­gres­sively chal­lenged the FBI to re­lease more in­for­ma­tion about the emails, pre­sum­ably be­cause they be­lieve a fuller por­trait would prove ex­cul­pa­tory. Clin­ton on Satur­day called it “pretty strange to put some­thing like that out with such lit­tle in­for­ma­tion right be­fore an elec­tion.” Her cam­paign chair­man, John Podesta, called the let­ter an “un­prece­dented step” that cried out for more clar­ity.

Comey ac­knowl­edged in a memo Fri­day that his let­ter cre­ated the risk of be­ing misun­der­stood so close to the Nov. 8 elec­tion. But he said he felt ob­li­gated to alert Congress to the new emails, which sur­faced dur­ing an un­re­lated crim­i­nal sex­ting in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­volv­ing for­mer Rep. An­thony Weiner, D-N.Y., after hav­ing pre­vi­ously told law­mak­ers that the email in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been con­cluded. Keep­ing the emails se­cret un­til after the elec­tion car­ried its own po­lit­i­cal risks.

Late Sun­day, a law en­force­ment of­fi­cial con­firmed the FBI had ob­tained a war­rant to be­gin re­view­ing the emails, which he said would be done ex­pe­di­tiously. The of­fi­cial had knowl­edge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but was not au­tho­rized to speak of it pub­licly and re­quested anonymity to do so. It’s not clear what the emails are about, whether they con­tain clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion or how they’re con­nected to the Clin­ton in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which ex­am­ined the mis­han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion on her pri­vate server. Comey could not guar­an­tee that the re­view would be done by Elec­tion Day.

Con­flict be­tween a pres­i­dent and an FBI di­rec­tor is not with­out prece­dent.

Bill Clin­ton had a no­to­ri­ously tense re­la­tion­ship with his FBI di­rec­tor, Louis Freeh. Clin­ton de­voted mul­ti­ple para­graphs in his 2004 mem­oir to cas­ti­gat­ing Freeh for var­i­ous de­ci­sions. Freeh, for his part, re­signed be­fore his 10 years were up, and has said he wore Clin­ton’s crit­i­cism as a “badge of honor.”

When Comey was nom­i­nated for the job in 2013, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama praised him for his “fierce in­de­pen­dence and deep in­tegrity.” A for­mer Repub­li­can who served as deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, Comey has said he’s no longer reg­is­tered with a po­lit­i­cal party.

He fa­mously split with the White House in 2004 over the au­tho­riza­tion of a do­mes­tic sur­veil­lance pro­gram, lead­ing to a re­mark­able con­fronta­tion in the hospi­tal room of then-At­tor­ney Gen­eral John Ashcroft. Comey called the event “prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult night of my pro­fes­sional life.”

As FBI di­rec­tor, he has floated the pos­si­bil­ity that po­lice con­cerns over be­ing recorded on vi­ral videos were caus­ing of­fi­cers to pull back and con­tribut­ing to an uptick in homi­cides, a view­point the White House re­fused to en­dorse.

And in the Clin­ton mat­ter, Comey tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress for more than four hours after an­nounc­ing his rec­om­men­da­tion against pros­e­cu­tion at an FBI head­quar­ters news con­fer­ence, where he re­buked her and her aides as “ex­tremely care­less” in the han­dling of clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion.

On Fri­day, Comey sent Congress a vaguely worded, three-para­graph let­ter that went against the coun­sel of Jus­tice Depart­ment lead­ers, who be­lieved the ac­tion was in­con­sis­tent with long­stand­ing depart­ment pol­icy meant to avoid the ap­pear­ance of pros­e­cu­to­rial in­ter­fer­ence in elec­tions.

Now, the same in­de­pen­dence that’s earned Comey bi­par­ti­san praise has given way to in­tense crit­i­cism over the tim­ing of his ac­tion from Democrats and some Repub­li­cans.

Hosko said the Clin­ton team may be tempted to seek Comey’s de­par­ture out of con­cern that the FBI will be “on our back” in the fu­ture. But he said that would be a fool­ish de­ci­sion.

“If I re­place him, re­place him with who?” he said. “Some­one who’s go­ing to tank it? How’s that go­ing to play?”


FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton on Sept. 27.

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