Caution and Fact

People react hastily and emotionally in moments of drama and stress. In the last hour I have had a number of friends and acquaintances tell me they’re glad I’m thinking more clearly about the Comey matter or revised my views since yesterday. Others have pointed out that I’m now critical of Comey whereas in the past I defended his reputation for non-partisan work.

My own view is that we should always be guided by caution and evidence. This can sometimes make one slower to arrive at a conclusion. But on balance the conclusions tend to be better and less driven by emotion or self-interest.

Yesterday I called Comey’s decision “badly mishandled” while not seeing any reason to ascribe it to partisan motivation or bad faith, largely based on prior history. I think both still apply today, as I noted in this afternoon’s post. What has changed is we have substantially new evidence on two and perhaps three points. The first is we now know Comey realized the risk that his cryptic and opaque letter would be misunderstood, indeed tendentiously misconstrued and mischaracterized. Of course that is precisely what happened. Relatedly, we know he discussed this with Attorney General Lynch who made clear that this would contravene long-standing DOJ guidelines about dealing with such cases.

So, amply warned; knew the risks.

Second, we’ve now had a flurry of news reports about just what the FBI found. There is a lot of reporting and some of it is contradictory. But the totality of the reporting suggests that what the FBI found were emails from Huma Abedin (perhaps in contact with Hillary Clinton, perhaps not) on a computer used by both her and her estranged husband, Anthony Weiner.

They didn’t know whether they contained classified information or even if they were new emails as opposed to copies of emails already scrutinized before Comey’s July announcement. We cannot know for certain what the facts are without a detailed, official explanation from the FBI. But the common denominator of basically all the overnight reporting suggests the FBI really had no new evidence at all. It had electronic records which they decided should be reviewed to see if there might be new evidence. The fact that they had not yet confirmed whether these emails were even new is the greatest confirmation of this. De-duping software is pretty advanced these days. This strongly suggests the emails haven’t been reviewed at all.

So more awareness and counsel of the risks, dramatically less support for anything new in the investigation. Taken together that makes what already looked like a very poorly handled decision look like an egregiously handled decision and one that puts Comey’s judgment under real question.

Evidence, facts, new things you know change things. This is a good way to approach life.