James B. Comey has called Donald Trump “morally unfit” to be president and a threat to the norms of democracy. Democrats still consider the former FBI director a man who helped elect Trump.
Hillary Clinton’s supporters have not forgiven Comey for how he conducted the investigation of her use of a private email server during her tenure as secretary of state, which they say cost her the 2016 presidential election. That wound remains raw no matter how much criticism Comey heaps on Trump now.
“I think Comey is an honest man who’s extremely self-righteous and thought he could, in his own judgment, violate Justice Department guidelines, with very unfortunate results,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
In interviews promoting his memoir, “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey has assailed Trump, who fired him last year, and has tried to show that he understands why Clinton and her supporters are upset with him while making clear that he has no regrets about his decisions.
“All of us were operating in a world where the polls were showing that Donald Trump had no chance,” Comey told ABC News last week. “If you conceal the fact that you have restarted the Hillary Clinton email investigation, not in some silly way but in a very, very important way that may lead to a different conclusion, what will happen to the institutions of justice when that comes out?”
Even in his criticism of Trump, Comey’s Democratic detractors said they see the same flaws they believe led him to mishandle the Clinton investigation: an inflated sense of righteousness and an outsized concern about how he will be perceived.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said Comey was “an honorable man, but his job was to do everything by the book, and not to manage reputations — either his own, or that of the agency. He seems a little bit too concerned about his own.”
Pro-Clinton Democrats criticized Comey for his public statement in July 2016 closing the investigation with a lengthy comment about what the presidential nominee did wrong and his Oct. 28 disclosure reopening the inquiry into newly discovered emails, followed by his “never mind” statement two days before the election. Democrats are certain that this October surprise stopped Clinton’s momentum.
Democrats also questioned Comey’s willingness to discuss the Clinton inquiries while not revealing the simultaneous investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to influence the election.
Particularly galling to Democrats was Comey’s acknowledgment that polling numbers showing a likely Clinton win affected his decision. Democrats said none of those steps fit the standards of an apolitical FBI director.
Clinton, in her book “What Happened,” said she felt that she had been “shivved” with Comey’s Oct. 28 decision to tell Congress that he had revived the inquiry. Nearly a year and a half after the election, her views remain unchanged.
“I’ve never spoken to him. I’ve never met him. I’ve never kissed him,” Clinton half-joked about Comey in an April 3 appearance in New York. “But for the letter he wrote on October 28, I would have won. When Nate Silver and others went back and looked at all of the polling, [it was] the single event that changed people’s votes.”
Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.), said Sunday on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that Comey “is a good man who made a very consequential blunder. Good people make mistakes all the time. It just so happened that the double-standard blunder that he made had a huge consequence.”
One year after Trump fired Comey, Democrats are grateful for the special investigation begun by that decision and helmed by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. They’re not happy to see Comey again.
“There is nobody in Washington, D.C., who is more similar to Donald Trump, in his unchecked narcissism, than James Comey,” said Lanny Davis, a longtime Clinton ally who published a book this year blaming Comey for her defeat. “I’m angrier with him today than I was on October 28, 2016 — the day he put out that letter saying Hillary was under investigation again. Because now I know he’s lying and that he’s such a self-serving narcissist that he can’t even own up to his mistake.”
Pro-Trump pushback against the memoir relies heavily on Democrats who criticized Comey during the campaign. The Republican National Committee created a micro-site to mock the book; it consisted mainly of quotes from Democrats, attacking Comey’s unprecedented public handling of the investigation of Clinton’s emails.
“He has no credibility,” RNC chairman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement Sunday. “President Trump was right to follow through on the bipartisan calls for him to be fired.”
Senate Democrats have proposed legislation to defend Mueller’s investigation; liberal groups have formed a “Not Above the Law” coalition that will organize protests nationwide if Mueller is dismissed.
Many Democrats said they had ignored Comey’s TV interviews. While praising the former director personally — they would not, like Trump, attack his character — they asked whether it made sense for a man who’d committed historic blunders to seek a new role as a martyr.
“Personally, I couldn’t stomach watching him,” said Neera Tanden, the president of the Center for American Progress and a former Clinton staff member. “I read the transcript; isn’t that enough? He doesn’t need to be a hero to be a victim of an obstruction of justice.”
But Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee who had watched Comey submit to rounds of Republican questions about his decisions, said that the former FBI director was worth listening to.
It was remarkable, he said, to hear a lifelong Republican and law enforcement official warn that the president was unfit for office. And it was a bit much to hear Republicans attack Comey now — especially the RNC’s chairwoman, who acknowledged in a CNN interview that she had not read his book.
“I do plan to read the book,” Lieu said.