Brutal Reading

I’ve just been doing an initial read-through of the portion of the report about the decision to send the October 2016 “Comey Letter” to Congress. It’s like watching a 4x Slo-Mo video of a horrible car accident. It gets worse and worse. You know what’s coming. It’s endless and yet you know how it ends.

There’s a lot of fancy explanations and discussions. But by the end, it all comes down to just ignoring longstanding DOJ guidelines and precedent that you make every effort to avoid election-influencing actions on the heels of an election. You’re not supposed to do that. They came out with various arguments about how this case was an exception and they should do it. And they did it. Or rather, James Comey did it. It ends up really being that simple. It was a huge mistake. And the IG says as much.

It’s brutal reading since you know the consequences. But there was every reason to believe it was the wrong decision at the time. One of the things that comes through in the discussion is that rules like this aren’t just general guidelines. They are so important precisely because they are designed for high stress, high consequence situations in which you as the decision-maker are always going to think it’s that special case requiring a unique approach. It’s summed up in an at-length quote from a career DOJ Prosecutor, George Toscas, who earlier reporting had suggested was what we might call, for lack of a better word, a Hillary investigation ‘hawk’.

One of the things that I tell people all the time, after having been in the Department for almost 24 years now, is I stress to people and people who work at all levels, the institution has principles and there’s always an urge when something important or different pops up to say, we should do it differently or those principles or those protocols you know we should—we might want to deviate because this is so different. But the comfort that we get as people, as lawyers, as representatives, as employees and as an institution, the comfort we get from those institutional policies, protocols, has, is an unbelievable thing through whatever storm, you know whatever storm hits us, when you are within the norm of the way the institution behaves, you can weather any of it because you stand on the principle.

And once you deviate, even in a minor way, and you’re always going to want to deviate. It’s always going to be something important and some big deal that makes you think, oh let’s do this a little differently. But once you do that, you have removed yourself from the comfort of saying this institution has a way of doing things and then every decision is another ad hoc decision that may be informed by our policy and our protocol and principles, but it’s never going to be squarely within them.

James Comey said that the fear of leaks did not play a role in his decision-making. Most of his top advisors who were involved in the decision-making say that the fear of leaks did play a role.

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