Poor James Comey. Having helped install Donald Trump in the White House, the FBI director should have been celebrating this International Women’s Day lionized for having shown women who’s boss. The president should be rewarding him for having helped prevent women all over the nation from celebrating the historical breakthrough represented by the nation’s first woman president. But instead of enjoying a power seat in the White House, Comey finds himself in the dog house, while workers across the nation stage something of a strike titled A Day Without a Woman.
There is little doubt that Comey’s October 28 letter to Congress—less than two weeks before Election Day—had a significant impact on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. In that letter, absent any findings, Comey stated that the FBI was revisiting its investigation of emails sent to and from Hillary Clinton via her private email server during her tenure as secretary of state. Less than a week later, just days before polls closed on November 8, Comey announced that his re-visitation of the Clinton email matter had yielded no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the Democratic presidential candidate. By then, millions of ballots had been already cast via early and absentee voting; those who had yet to vote were subjected to a re-introduction of the relentless right-wing narrative against Clinton as one signifyin’ woman.
At a White House reception for law enforcement officials a week after the inauguration, Comey sheepishly accepted a special shout-out and hug from President Donald J. Trump, who won the presidential election without a majority of the popular vote. “Ah, James,” Trump said at the sight of his savior. “He’s become more famous than me.”
What a difference a month makes.
On Saturday, Trump famously unleashed via Twitter an explosive accusation against his predecessor, claiming that President Barack Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower in Manhattan, where the Trump campaign was headquartered. Observers of the patterns of Trump’s Twitter behavior suggested that the outlandish claim was the president’s attempt to deflect attention from the recusal of his attorney general from all investigations related to communications between members of the Trump campaign and figures linked to the Kremlin—a matter of great interest to Democrats, considering the consensus of U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election to tilt the board toward Trump.
Trump apparently made the charge without asking anyone in the intelligence or law enforcement agencies in the Executive Branch whether or not this had actually happened. Instead, he seems to have simply picked up a piece of disinformation circulating in the right-wing echo chamber and decided to run with it. This left the people who would have been charged with carrying out such an executive order—say, the director of national intelligence and FBI chief—having to answer for themselves.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, who was in office during the campaign, said that he’s pretty sure he would have known about such an order had it taken place, and he knew of none. FBI Director Comey, meanwhile, knowing his credibility was on the line, especially given his antics during the election, not only rejected the wiretapping claim outright—he asked the Justice Department, of which the FBI is a part, to back him up. The Justice Department, under the direction of Sessions, has not done so.
Had the FBI bugged Trump Tower to conduct surveillance on the Trump campaign, that would clearly be against the law. A constitutional crisis, really. While Trump never specified which agency he supposes did the bugging, domestic operations generally fall to the FBI.
Having helped to deliver the election to Trump, Comey now finds himself possibly accused of having subverted the Constitution in the service of Trump’s favorite villains: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And yet, he has apparently not been asked to resign. Neither has anyone from the administration stepped up to defend him.
On March 2, Representative Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, accused Comey of withholding information in a closed-door meeting with committee members regarding the involvement of Russian government operatives in the U.S. presidential election.
“The first obstacle we met was the FBI director’s unwillingness to answer questions,” Schiff said, according to Bloomberg Politics. But that was three days before Trump went ballistic on Twitter with a claim that would put Comey at the center of an election-fixing scheme.
Now Comey is slated to appear before the committee for a March 20 hearing on the role of Russia in the presidential campaign, alongside Clapper, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, National Security Agency chief Mike Rogers, and former CIA Director John Brennan.
If only he had been willing to set aside his own willingness to appease the misogynists who were calling for Clinton’s very freedom, chanting “Lock her up!” at campaign rallies. Had he resisted that call to prove that he was one of the boys, James Comey would today be celebrating International Women’s Day in the humble knowledge that he had stepped out of the way as history took its course. Instead he endures his own, very lonely Day Without a Woman, to which the presidential podium stands in stark monument.