Email #325: “impartiality”?

Once again I agree with your stated principles. You said Tuesday in a press release announcing a joint investigation by the House Judiciary and the House Oversight committees:

“The impartiality of our justice system is the bedrock of our republic and our fellow citizens must have confidence in its objectivity, independence, and evenhandedness. The law is the most equalizing force in this country. No entity or individual is exempt from oversight… Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken.”

But what in your opinion is the greatest threat to American confidence in the impartiality of the Justice Department? What subject requires your most immediate attention and exercise of your constitutional duty?

“Decisions made by the Department of Justice in 2016 have led to a host of outstanding questions that must be answered.”

And of all of the decisions the Department made last year, you list only four, all regarding the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Even the stated goals of your new investigation seem oddly limited:

“The Committees will review these decisions and others to better understand the reasoning behind how certain conclusions were drawn.”

Admittedly, I too would like to better understand former FBI Director Comey’s decision. I wrote to you about this in January days before President Trump took office:

“The Justice department announced yesterday it’s investigating FBI Director James Comey’s actions during the campaign. What steps will you be taking to investigate him too? As you obviously know, Comey broke against decades of tradition and against all legal and professional advice when he revealed that he was reopening the FBI case into Hillary Clinton’s emails. He did this less than two weeks before the election, and Clinton’s polls, which were averaging far above Trump’s, immediately dropped. Comey announced less than two days before the election that the investigation was closed again, but Clinton’s polls never recovered to their previous levels. Given that Trump won his three upset states by under 1% each, there’s an obvious case to be made that Director Comey not only interfered in the election but actually caused its outcome. Since the Hatch Act makes any election interference a crime and since you are the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, I assume you are already investigating the Director. I am, however, confused why you haven’t spoken about this yet. Your silence creates the impression of your putting your party allegiance above your Congressional and ethical responsibilities. When will you make a statement regarding Director Comey?”

Your response has taken nine months and follows a full-year after the actual incidents. Comey’s letter was dated October 28, 2016–a year from today. Should we expect the same reaction time for your other investigations into the Justice Department? The President fired Comey on April 9, 2017. Will you begin investigating that potential obstruction of justice in April 2018?

Although I agree that these incidents remain relevant, your focus on them now and your continuing refusal to investigate other more pressing concerns undermines an appearance of integrity. You look like a Trump ally, trying to divert attention away from the administration’s current misconduct.

Not only does this undermine your stated principles, it’s an ineffective political strategy. When calls for impeachment mount over winter and spring, you will not be able to assume a posture of principled resistance. Your refusing to parallel your Republican counterparts in the Senate Judiciary Committee and join the House Oversight Committee in investigations of the Trump administration already create an appearance of extreme partisan bias. Now by focusing yet again on the Clinton emails—the top political topic of last year’s election—you further erode any appearance of impartiality. If you next ignore evidence of impeachable offenses and refuse to proceed with articles of impeachment, you will secure your position in our history books as a partisan stooge.

Is this how you want to be remembered?

Email #160: “extraordinary circumstances”

Given the explicit conflict of interest of the FBI investigating any sitting President, a special counsel should already have been appointed to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election. While conflict of interest alone is sufficient cause, Director Comey’s firing also meets the law’s standard of “extraordinary circumstances” for the appointment a special counsel.

Multiple sources report that the President has attempted to use his authority to improperly influence the FBI Director before firing him. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said that Comey “mentioned that he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president and he was uneasy with that” because Comey didn’t want to create “the appearance of compromising the integrity of the FBI.”

A former FBI official told NBC News that “The White House called [Comey] out of the blue. Comey didn’t want to do it. He didn’t even want the rank and file at the FBI to know about it,” but Comey agreed to the dinner because the President is “still the commander-in-chief. He’s your boss. How do you say no?” During the dinner, the President raised the topic of the Russian investigation, but Comey “tried to stay away from it. He would say, ‘Look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”

The New York Times reported a separate account:

“The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense… Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty. Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty… But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.” “You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.”

More extraordinary, the President stated himself that he fired Director Comey because of the Russian investigation: “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”

The President directly contradicted earlier statements from his own White House personnel. Press Secretary Spicer said the decision to fire Comey originated from the Justice Department, specifically Deputy Attorney General Rowenstein: “It was all him. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders added the next day: “When you receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone like the deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act.” And yet there are multiple reports that Rowenstein wrote the memo at the President’s request.

It is difficult to characterize the White House statements as a “cover up,” since the President does not seem to be aware that firing an FBI director for investigating him is an abuse of power. Given these “extraordinary circumstances,” the need for a special counsel is overwhelming. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you should be leading that call.

And yet you have said nothing. When will you place duty to your country ahead of duty to your political party and hold the Trump administration accountable?

Email # 156: “It defies logic”?

President Trump has long criticized FBI Director James Comey for not pursuing Secretary Clinton more aggressively for her handling of classified emails. He tweeted last July:

“FBI director said Crooked Hillary compromised our national security. No charges. Wow!”

He tweeted the same opinion earlier this month:

‘‘FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deed!’’

You responded similarly to Comey’s announcement that Clinton would not be prosecuted:

“It defies logic and the law that she faces no consequences for jeopardizing national security.”

But when Comey announced publicly that he was reopening the Clinton case just days before the election, Trump approved:

“I was not his fan. But I’ll tell you what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back. He’s got to hang tough because there’s a lot of — a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.”

You approved too:

“The FBI’s decision to reopen its investigation into Secretary Clinton reinforces what the House Judiciary Committee has been saying for months: the more we learn about Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server, the clearer it becomes that she and her associates committed wrongdoing and jeopardized national security.”

And yet now we are to understand that the President Trump fired Director Comey not despite but specifically because of his reopening of the Clinton case? Deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein explained in the memo that accompanied the President’s letter dismissing Comey:

“The FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”

Do you agree with the deputy attorney general? If so, why have you never expressed any criticism of Comey for the timing of his second investigation and its well-documented influence on the outcome of the election? Have you, like the President, completely reversed your opinion in the last week?

Other members of Congress are very concerned. Senator Burr said on Tuesday:

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.”

Senator Corker said:

“his removal at this particular time will raise questions.”

Senator Lankford said:

“the American people need clarity and deserve an explanation for his immediate firing.”

Senator McCain said:

“I have long called for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s decision to remove the FBI Director only confirms the need and the urgency of such a committee.”

Rep. Amash said:

“My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre.”

Amash was referring to President Trump’s letter to Comey:

“While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

The President’s statement is “bizarre” because multiple members of his campaign are under investigation for possible collusion with Russia in its well-documented interference in the election. These are concerns voiced by your fellow Republicans in Congress, and so none can be dismissed as politically biased. The President’s decision, however, appears highly biased.

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, it is your job to oversee the executive branch, and yet you said nothing about the influence Comey’s reopening of the Clinton case had on the election. Your response to Comey’s firing also says nothing:

“The FBI is the premier law enforcement agency in the world and it is critical to have a director who holds the trust of the American people. It is clearly the President’s prerogative to remove the FBI Director, as was recommended by the top two officials at the Department of Justice. I would like to thank Director Comey for his many years of faithful service, and I look forward to working closely with the White House to identify a suitable successor as quickly as possible.”

Your statements of the obvious would be comically vapid if they did not also distract from the fact that Comey was unexpectedly fired in the midst of his investigation into the Trump’s campaign’s ties to Russia–and just a week after requesting funds to expand that investigation.

The FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, but yours are suffering far worse. What will it take for you to set politics aside and do your job?

Your behavior defies logic.