fb-pixel Skip to main content
opinion | Eric Fehrnstrom

In defense of James Comey

FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee on July 7, 2016 to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton.
FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Oversight Committee on July 7, 2016 to explain his agency's recommendation to not prosecute Hillary Clinton.AP/J. Scott Applewhite

In the 1800s an itinerant American evangelist named Lorenzo Dow made up a little ditty to describe ministers who preached that only a few elect souls go to heaven.

You can and you can’t,

You will and you won’t;

You’ll be damned if you do,

And damned if you don’t.

This is the same riddle facing FBI director James Comey, who has emerged as a central figure in the 2016 election. It goes without saying that no one voluntarily puts himself in the middle of a hotly contested race with a week to go unless there are compelling reasons.

When Comey closed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server in July without charges, Democrats threw rose petals at his feet. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi called him “a great man.” The Clinton campaign released a video praising him. Not surprisingly, it has since been deleted from the website.

By renewing the case, and notifying the appropriate congressional committees, Comey chose the only legal and ethical course available to him upon the discovery of new evidence. To remain silent would have exposed Comey to charges of a cover-up. More importantly for the integrity of the election, it would have deprived voters of the right to know if the Democratic candidate is a suspected felon.


In 1972, as details of the Watergate break-in were beginning to spread, President Nixon was re-elected and the nation was plunged into chaos. Ultimately, Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment for his crimes. Does America really want to go through that again?

In Comey’s case, he is the only person in the Obama administration who is showing any independence at all. President Obama, his wife Michelle, and Vice President Biden are all busy campaigning for Clinton, an odd set of circumstances when you consider Clinton quite possibly broke federal law and jeopardized national security.


As for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she compromised herself with a foolish decision to meet with former president Bill Clinton as the initial investigation was winding down. If anyone is guilty of meddling, it is Lynch, for reportedly urging Comey not to publicly notify Congress that potential new evidence had surfaced.

Comey’s critics claim that protocols and tradition were violated when he acted as he did so close to the election. But where was the concern for custom and practice in 1992, when Bill Clinton used the indictment of former defense secretary Casper Weinberger four days before the election to bash his opponent, President George H.W. Bush?

This leaves Hillary Clinton with the only option available to her, one that her family has honed to a deadly skill: shooting the messenger. Clinton’s attempts to undermine confidence in the FBI are as egregious as Donald Trump’s complaints of a “rigged” election.

But Clinton’s smoke-and-mirrors act is wearing thin. When the “vast right-wing conspiracy” grows to encompass Obama appointees, it begins to lose its effect. After Clinton charged Comey with sharing information only with Republicans, it was quickly pointed out that eight Democrats were addressed in the letter he sent to Congress.

What all this means for next Tuesday’s voting is hard to say, although the race has clearly tightened. The ABC News/Washington Post tracking poll has gone from a 12-point lead for Clinton a week ago to a virtual tie.

Clinton is closing out the race by returning to her greatest hits from the summer, when she was riding high. Alicia Machado is speaking at her rallies. A negative Trump ad featuring the Khans just launched. And, of course, she’s attacking Comey. If Clinton had wanted to campaign on a high note in the final days, those hopes have been dashed.


Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.