On August 27, the FBI scored another temporary victory to maintain the secrecy of the James Comey memos. It convinced a federal judge to delay his own order and has again thwarted the Freedom of Information Act passed by Congress to force government agencies to account to the voting public.
Former FBI director Comey is gone, and nobody within the government should be trying to protect him. Because of his recklessness, the nation is still grappling the aftermath of the most serious constitutional crisis of recent memory.
Why is the FBI obstructing the release of its disgraced former director’s memos? As they say, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. Whatever harm releasing these memos might cause to the FBI’s legitimate crime-fighting ability is surely offset by the lack of accountability for one of the most controversial episodes in the bureau’s history. The public must know that the FBI is not operating as a government unto itself.
Fellow son of Kansas City Harry S Truman wrote during his presidency: “We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. They are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail… Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him.”
In spite of all the reforms, oversight, and internal regulations meant to protect the elected governance from the power of the unelected FBI, liberal journalist Michael Isikoff wrote this of Comey’s private meeting with Donald Trump, the subject matter of some of these memos: “Senior FBI officials were concerned then-director James Comey would appear to be blackmailing then-President-elect Trump – using tactics notoriously associated with J. Edgar Hoover – when he attended a fateful Jan. 6, 2017, meeting at which he informed the real estate magnate about allegations he had consorted with prostitutes in Moscow.”
He’s not the only one. The president-elect also thought the FBI director was using the occasion of a private pre-inauguration meeting as blackmail to gain control over the incoming president. Trump thought Comey used the Christopher Steele dossier story of Trump directing Russian hookers in a Moscow hotel room as “leverage“ to secure his job. Comey himself understood the appearance of his private briefing of the president: “I was very concerned that he might interpret it as an effort to pull a J. Edgar Hoover on him.”
Then, when the president fired Comey, the former FBI director retaliated by releasing some of the contents of memos for the stated purpose of prompting the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump. Isn’t that what unsuccessful blackmailers do when their targets balk? A few days later, somebody (possibly Comey’s partner in crime, then CIA director John Brennan) leaked the fact that Comey had briefed the president on details of the Russian prostitute allegations to create a hook for the media to justify publishing the otherwise unbelievable allegations against Trump.
Comey had another reason to want the swift appointment of a special counsel. He literally lost sleep over the prospect that the president had made an audio recording of their meetings. “I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation, there might be a tape.”
Comey testified that he wanted the special counsel appointed to “pursue the tapes,” because he “was worried the Department of Justice, as currently led, would not go after White House tapes.” What was Comey’s relationship to the person selected as special counsel? “Brothers in arms,” and longtime friends. That means a likely safe haven for potentially embarrassing audio recordings. Although no tapes ever surfaced, Mueller’s team kept faith by writing a report that ignored Comey’s misdeeds in the collusion hoax.
On August 12, 2019, Judge James Boasberg denied the FBI’s effort to reverse a prior order directing the release of the Comey memos. Until the release of the Robert Mueller special counsel report, the court sided with the FBI in keeping the Comey memos out of the public domain. According to the FBI, the disclosure of the Comey memos “could reasonably be expected to adversely affect the pending Russia investigation…[as the memos are Comey’s] contemporaneous notes about incidents that are of interest in that investigation.”
Allow me to translate: The special counsel didn’t want targets of the investigation (including the president, one can reasonably presume) to get their story straight by studying what Comey wrote. It would be a legitimate concern if so much of the Mueller probe were not a process-crime witch hunt that engineered traps to criminalize otherwise innocent people (think Roger Stone, George Papadopoulos, and Michael Flynn).
The end of the Mueller investigation made that argument moot. So the FBI attempted to change its basis for withholding the memos, to no avail: the judge quickly swatted the arguments away. Then, just days ago, the FBI asked the court to hold off on enforcing the order until the FBI could decide whether to appeal, arguing that, “the public interest argues more strongly in favor of a stay as the information at issue includes classified information (the redactions in the Comey Memos), the release of which the government believes could reasonably be expected to harm national security.”
National security? My definition of national security involves preserving a meaningful constitutional government in which elections confer real political power on the people’s representatives. If Comey or his FBI attempted to gain control of a president-elect with blackmail material, or attempted to undermine a duly-elected president by sponsoring partisan smears that it should have known to be false, that would present a direct threat to the security of our system of representative democracy.
I respectfully suggest that the preservation of self-government—where the people direct the government and not the other way around—should be the first responsibility of every government agency, including the FBI. That should be the “higher loyalty” of all public servants.
It’s reasonable to infer that everything in the memos that could be used as ammunition against Trump has already been leaked or released in the Mueller report. Conservative Treehouse wrote this regarding the balance of the unpublished memos: “In our opinion, the content of the diary by former FBI Director James Comey, as outlined in what has formally been called ‘The Comey Memos’, is devastating to the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI. How do we know? Because the FBI is fighting like hell to keep even descriptions of the memo(s) content from becoming public.”
As noted above, the FBI ultimately obtained that delay through sometime in October. This further delays the kind of transparency necessary for representative democracy to maintain control over its government.
Whatever spooks or spies might be outed by the release of Comey’s memos, the American people should have the right to insist upon the supremacy of constitutional interests over the reputations of career bureaucrats who might be embarrassed by a public airing of their misconduct. Attorney General William Barr should tell the FBI to pound sand. America deserves the truth.