FBI Director James Comey is one of the most intriguing figures in Washington today: a key official who evidently gives little thought to White House narratives before speaking his mind.
At a time of rising public concern about law enforcement and national security, he could have more of an impact on the 2016 election than anyone else who isn’t on the ballot. On Tuesday, The Hill christened Comey a “wild card” for Hillary Clinton, but his influence could reach far beyond her campaign.
Of course, The Hill thinks first of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email server – a politically-charged investigation Comey seems sincerely dedicated to keeping above politics: “Whatever the verdict is, both parties will have to accept it because Comey is, in many ways, untouchable,” the publication says.
Comey has always insisted his agency will handle the Clinton case in a tough and fair manner, famously asserting that his people “don’t give a rip about politics.” He has expressed a particular dedication for taking the protection of classified material seriously. In what some take as an ominous portent for Clinton, Comey pushed hard for serious charges against former CIA Director David Petraeus for compromising classified material.
The FBI director has become a nagging toothache for President Obama, going off-narrative to express his concerns about the threat of Islamist terrorism, the security risks posed by Syrian refugees, and the deleterious effect of anti-cop protests on law enforcement (the “chill wind” of the “Ferguson effect.“)
Obama dismissed media reports about the FBI’s deepening Clinton investigation, and the FBI’s allies quickly forced Obama to back away. But Obama’s people hit Comey hard for his “chill wind” comments, and Comey took a quarter-step back.
For these heresies, Michael Goodwin at the New York Post recently described Comey as a “liberal hero” who has now become the Left’s “enemy.” (One doesn’t hear much about the “liberal hero” saga these days, but it involved Comey playing hardball with the Bush Administration over a domestic surveillance program, literally racing to then-Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital bedside to make his case.)
It seems a bit narrow to suppose that Comey’s influence on 2016 would be limited to either bringing charges against Hillary Clinton, or giving her a pass on her email server. (Everyone should be ready for the Clinton camp to loudly portray anything short of formal charges against her, personally, as absolute and total vindication.)
On that score, no matter what Comey and his investigators do recommend, it’s difficult to imagine Obama’s hyper-politicized Justice Department knocking out the Democrats’ 2016 front-runner by actually issuing an indictment.
No matter what Hillary Clinton actually did, the odds of her presidential quest ending in a courtroom have always seemed very slim. Still, given Comey’s law-and-order reputation, it might be difficult for the Attorney General to completely over-ride him and give Clinton a pass, particularly since the public mood has soured on corruption and the abuse of power.
Leaving that bit of high political drama aside, Comey can still shake up the 2016 race by influencing Americans’ perception of the terrorist threat.
National security has a way of taking presidential campaigns for a wild ride when it gets behind the wheel. Candidates without solid security credentials can find their stars waning at a time when voters desperately want reassurance. It’s easy to blow that confidence by saying something voters find nonsensical, but very difficult to gain it entirely by giving smart speeches filled with solid policy proposals. National security might be the biggest “resume” issue remaining in presidential politics. Voter calculations change dramatically when security becomes one of the most important variables.
There’s also the domestic law-enforcement scene to consider.
It seems likely that activists will want to draw attention to their anti-cop movement as the presidential election approaches. As noted, Comey has already made his “chill wind” statements about rising crime, prison releases, and the “Black Lives Matter” movement that contradicts the Democrats’ preferred narrative. It’s not difficult to imagine situations arising over the coming summer that make Democrats feel they have to distance themselves from the FBI director… and that wouldn’t sit well with voters concerned about law and order.
The Hill notes that when Comey was asked last year why he went to the mat against that Bush-era surveillance program, he replied, “The rule of law. Simple as that.”
That kind of talk doesn’t rest easily in the ears of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s party, which views the rule of law as merely a weapons to bypass, entangle or slug their domestic enemies.