First, James B. Comey was Republicans' Public Enemy No. 1 for not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton. Then, the FBI director was a GOP hero for disclosing new emails related to Clinton's investigation just before the election. Donald Trump even conceded that the electoral system “might not be as rigged as I thought.” And to this day, Clinton blames her loss on Comey.
But as he often does, Jim Comey giveth and Jim Comey taketh away.
The Washington Post just broke the news that Comey has joined with the CIA's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election was intended to help elect Trump as president — not just to undermine the U.S. electoral process more generally.
CIA Director James O. Brennan has told agency employees that both Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper are, in Brennan's words, in agreement with the CIA's assessment of “the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” according to U.S. officials.
Previously, the FBI's apparently noncommittal stance on Russia's motives provided skeptical Republicans with some valuable plausible deniability that Russia actually intended to help Trump. Part of the apparent disharmony seemed to stem from the differences in the two organizations' mission statements and cultures, with the FBI more interested in what it could prove and the CIA more comfortable drawing inferences based on the evidence at hand. An official now tells The Post that the FBI's and CIA's positions were “never all that different in the first place.”
But the FBI's reported dithering on Russia's motive gave Republicans reason to hold out — an excuse to defend Trump against accusations that a foreign actor worked deliberately and successfully on his behalf. GOP leaders joined in calls for investigations, but they have declined to run them outside the normal legislative process. Democrats, for instance, have proposed a 9/11 Commission-style committee with no partisan advantage.
...When it comes to alleged Russian interference in the presidential election, the GOP appears to be taking a more restrained approach.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are rejecting growing calls for a wide-ranging special congressional panel to investigate the issue, instead pointing to the narrower oversight work already being performed by the House and Senate intelligence committees.
This approach offers no guarantee that final investigative reports will ever be released to the public — and potentially shields President-elect Donald Trump from a deeper congressional investigation looking into Russia’s motives.
But now, there is apparently a united front among U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials when it comes to precisely what Russia was attempting to do. That's going to make it harder for Trump — who continues to question whether it was even Russia behind the email hacking of the DNC and a top Clinton aide — to deny, and harder for Republicans to play off.
The drama over the 2016 election just keeps going, and Comey simply can't help but be a part of it.