There are two kinds of power in government: real power, which is possessed by those who are elected, and reflected power, which is possessed by those who are appointed.
Director Comey confused that distinction and assumed that he could not be fired. He disregarded the old football maxim “don’t get in front of your interference.” He struck out on his own into a political arena that was neither his job nor his strength. He became the story rather than the issues. He disrespected his boss in the name of “Protecting the Bureau” while ignoring their time-honored role as finders and presenters of facts.
When Director Comey held the infamous press conference in which he announced that Hillary Clinton was careless and reckless in her treatment of classified emails and then announced that she would not be prosecuted, he violated a rule that has guided federal investigators for generations. Their job is to refer that decision to prosecutors who interpret the law. To do otherwise is to subvert a system that separates these functions to protect the rights of those investigated and the general public. It helps prevents malicious cases that can be brought by those with law enforcement power. This separation of duties between police and prosecutors ensures an impartial review. The Washington Post reported that Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her deputy Sally Yeats had serious concerns about Comey sending a letter about the investigation directly to Congress but despite being Comey’s bosses were so certain that he wouldn’t listen that they didn’t even communicate with him directly on the matter.
Comey said that he followed his convictions that only he could make the decision because the Justice Department and the Attorney General had been compromised by the unusual meeting of the Attorney General and President Clinton on the Attorney General’s plane. Even if his concerns were warranted, the proper action would have been to demand that the Attorney General recuse herself publicly and if she did not, for him to resign and hold a press conference giving the reasons for his actions.
I truly believe that Director Comey thinks that what he did protected the FBI. Sadly, it has done the opposite by politicizing its leading role. President Trump was right to fire the Director. I am hopeful that he appoints a new Director who will restore the sterling reputation of this great agency.
Howard Safir served as Police Commissioner of NYPD and Director of Operations for the United States Marshals Service. He is currently Chairman of Safir Intelligence & Security.