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Politicizing The FBI: How James Comey Succeeded Where Richard Nixon Failed

Comey involved the FBI in what appears to have been a plot to entrap a political opponent

A little over 40 years ago, Richard Nixon went from a landslide re-election winner to a president forced to resign in disgrace. Nixon’s downfall was the direct result of his unsuccessful attempts to politicize through patronage of an independent, straight-arrow FBI. The commonsense, ethical lesson from this for all government officials would be to avoid attempts to use our nation’s independent fact-finder as a partisan force.

There is as well, of course, a more perverse lesson to be learned from Nixon’s downfall at the hands of an independent FBI, to wit: there is much power to gain by politicizing the Bureau, but only if its upper-leadership team is all on partisan board. Emerging evidence increasingly suggests, sadly, that this was former FBI Director James Comey’s leadership strategy in our country’s most sensitive investigations.

In the years running up to the 1972 election, Deputy Associate FBI Director Mark Felt, serving under feisty bulldog J. Edgar Hoover, staunchly refused the entreaties of Nixon lieutenants to act politically, e.g., to whitewash an ITT/Republican bribery scheme and to lock up innocent war protestors. Felt, the natural successor to Hoover, fell out of White House favor as a result.

Following the death of Hoover in May 1972, Nixon appointed in place of Felt the decent but politically malleable L. Patrick Gray. When six weeks later five burglars were arrested in the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, Nixon’s Justice Department tried to limit, through Gray, the scope of the FBI’s investigationUnfortunately for Nixon, regular Bureau agents, led quietly but spectacularly by Felt, fought these attempts, with a far worse result for Nixon than if the Bureau had been left alone to do its job.

In the years running up to the 2016 presidential election, Comey made sure not to make the same “mistakes” of Felt that plagued Nixon. The IRS conservative harassment scandal was swept under the rug. The Clinton Foundation, seemingly overtly corrupt, was given a pass even after the Uranium One sale by a large Clinton Foundation donor was approved by the Clinton State Department. Comey even went so far as to take the unusual step of exonerating Hillary Clinton for her grossly negligent handling of classified materials, not a decision that was his to make. More shockingly, he permitted the destruction of 30,000 Clinton emails and relevant hard drives. It strains credulity to contend that Comey would have done the same for President Donald Trump if the occasion arose.

Comey’s exoneration of Clinton clearly transgressed clear DOJ standards, although Comey makes a tenuous argument that this was made necessary by the clear bias of Attorney General Loretta Lynch. In so doing, though, he admits that the proper course would have been to recommend a Special Counsel. But, stunningly, he also admits in his recent book that he did not do so because the public might think she was guilty, a political calculation if there ever was one.

Recent revelations show, chillingly, that he involved the FBI in what appears to have been a plot to entrap, and even frame, a political opponent and his campaign regarding Russian collusion. This radical politicization of the Bureau makes any Nixonian scheme seem like child’s play. Nixon shamefully tricked the FBI into doing a routine background check on his enemy, journalist Daniel Schorr. Comey outdid Nixon by a wide margin, using his FBI to construct a false case of possible treason against a political enemy.

During the Watergate investigation, Felt sought not to frame anyone but merely to be allowed to fully pursue the bureau’s investigation, so that no one could accuse the FBI of conducting a “whitewash.” Felt and his bureau were resisting politicization, not pursuing it, even though helping the party in power, Nixon’s, would have brought accolades and perks to his leadership team.

When, in 1972, Director Gray told Felt to “wrap up” the Watergate investigation in 72 hours, a Time magazine reporter, likely at Felt’s suggestion, called Gray inquiring about the order. Gray blew a fuse, but rescinded the order. Then when Gray and his DOJ superiors limited the Watergate prosecution to the seven originally-apprehended defendants, Felt pushed reporter Bob Woodward to explore what Felt knew to be a wider campaign of spying and sabotage. When Woodward failed to understand that to which Felt had pointed him, Felt helped the reporter understand the scheme in an all-night garage session.But raw FBI information was not leaked. Felt was not giving facts to Woodward, but teaching him how to gather facts and construct from them an overall narrative theme. The result was a series of brilliant reports which transfixed the nation.

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