Twitter War: Comey Drops Pseudonym and Judgment In Social Media Attacks

440px-Comey-FBI-PortraitBelow is my column in the Hill newspaper on the recent tweets from former Director James Comey attacking allegations that he (and others) abused the secret FISA surveillance system. It is an ironic twist for Comey who is now acting in the same fashion as Trump in commenting on pending investigations and compromising himself as a potential witness or even target in future investigations.

Here is the column:

The recently released memo from the House Intelligence Committee had barely hit the news when phones across the Beltway went off with that all-too-familiar sound: a chirp. However, the blast was not from the tweeter-in-chief but from former FBI Director James Comey.

While many commentators rightfully criticize the costs of President Trump’s past tweets on court rulings and investigations, Comey’s Twitter traffic has continued to grow unabated and largely unaddressed. On this occasion, Comey was taunting the Republicans with a tweet beginning, “That’s it?” It was Trumpian in every respect, an ill-considered tweet discussing the investigation of his own conduct that undermines his position as a possible witness or target.

Many of us supported the appointment of a special counsel after Trump fired Comey in the midst of Comey’s Russian investigation. Soon after his departure, however, Comey began to take actions that seriously undermined his own position, and his value as a witness to special counsel Robert Mueller. Indeed, the special counsel would now be taking a considerable risk by calling Comey on the stand in any prosecution of the president, but Comey could well end up on the witness list for the defense.

In leaving the FBI, Comey improperly removed memos from the Russian investigation that he wrote concerning meetings with Trump. These memos were clearly FBI material, and some were deemed later to be classified. He had neither the authority to take the memos nor any review that confirmed that they were not classified. (Comey could have given the memos to the oversight committees but elected to leak them). Comey then sent some of the memos to a friend to disclose the information to the media. Four of the seven memos that Comey removed are now believed to be classified. He reportedly gave four memos to his friend to leak to the media. Thus, at least one was likely classified.

It was a tragically ironic moment. This was the man who was tasked with finding leakers and became a leaker himself the minute it served his purposes. Moreover, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had called for Comey to be fired for his conduct during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of private servers for official and classified information. Comey had denounced Clinton’s handling of such material as “extremely careless.” Now, he was sending official and possibly classified material to a friend with the specific purpose of leaking the contents to the media.

Yet, the most curious change in Comey came after the appointment of the special counsel. Comey turned to the same social media vehicle as Trump to attack his opponents. As with the leaking of the FBI memos, the tweets were clearly designed to bolster Comey’s positions against Trump and the Republicans. He was continuing to try to shape the public narrative.

At first, Comey confined his tweets to oblique poetic or literary references with just pictures of himself standing at crossroads or simple landscapes. For example, after former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty as part of the Mueller investigation, Comey posted a link to a photo of a rushing stream with the biblical quotation, “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

download-6In this early period, Comey was tweeting anonymously under the name Reinhold Niebuhr. The choice of Niebuhr was a curious choice, given the theologian’s disdain for hypocrisy and self-righteousness. Niebuhr often discussed “promethean illusion” and how self-love can lead to the false conclusion that you can achieve goodness on your own and through your own actions. Comey continued to communicate as Niebuhr through illusions and quotations, despite the general knowledge that he was Niebuhr and was using the words of others to criticize people like Trump. It was as if Aesop came back to life with a Twitter account to discuss politics through fables.

Eventually, Comey dropped the tiresome pretense and began tweeting directly about events and people under his own name. Recently, he applauded the FBI for pushing back on the House Republicans seeking to release the memo, writing, “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”

There was little question that the “weasels and liars” were references to the Republicans and Trump. Engaging in partisan name-calling is hardly improving Comey’s position, but it got worse after the release of the memo with his latest tweet, “That’s it? Dishonest and misleading memo wrecked the House intel committee, destroyed trust with Intelligence Community, damaged relationship with FISA court, and inexcusably exposed classified investigation of an American citizen. For what? DOJ & FBI must keep doing their jobs.”

Let’s put this one in perspective. The memo concerns allegations that Comey signed off on multiple secret court applications to put a Trump aide under surveillance. It appears that Comey and his staff never told the court that the infamous “dossier” by Fusion GPS was paid for in significant part by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. It was never revealed that the author of the dossier had told the FBI that he was “desperate” to prevent Trump from being president or that he had shopped the story with various reporters, who could not verify its contents.

Various members of Congress have called for a special counsel, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has referred the matter for further investigation within the Justice Department. In other words, Comey is facing calls for investigation and decided to tweet insulting names for his critics and dismissive comments about the investigation. Sound familiar? The only thing Comey did not do is declare the allegations against him to be “fake news.”

Comey continues to react by any means to his critics. He first became a leaker and now is a serial tweeter. That is the problem with our current politics: “Our age knows nothing but reaction and leaps from one extreme to another.” The real Reinhold Niebuhr said that.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. He has been lead counsel in national security cases for more than two decades and has testified before congressional intelligence committees.You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

158 thoughts on “Twitter War: Comey Drops Pseudonym and Judgment In Social Media Attacks”

  1. Trump poisons the presidency with his cancerous tweets and Turley writes an article about Comey. Right.

    Comey knows so much more about the depths of the Trump treachery than Turley….so Comey leaks some information i.e., wildly waving his arms to alert us that something is rotten in the state of Denmark…and it worked. Enter Mueller. Like with the Nunes memo, Turley takes these matters at face value and issues his stern rebuke. Lovely. However, he does engage in hypotheticals in past articles that undermine the democrats and the FBI. Bias, I’d say.

    On to the other issue of bias.

    Most of Trump’s cabinet and advisers have called him much worse names than what Strzok called him. Do you think there’s a deep state conspiracy of bias in Trump’s own cabinet? It’s a good thing that Mueller removed Strzok in the early stages of the investigation or else fellow republican conspirators, paranoid right wing authoritarian followers, and law professors might see phantoms of widespread bias and conspiracy.

    As for another example of conspiratorial bias: How about Comey publicly reopening the criminal investigation of Clinton which precipitated a slide in her voter support until election day?

    Couple that FBI gaffe with Putin’s support of Trump, Republican gerrymandering and unlawful voter roll scrubs and purges and the stage was set for a Trump ‘miracle.’ But miracles are not real. Right Turley? Palast just showed how Trump stole the election (without Putin adding to the nefarious calculus).

    But I’m not here to assert that Trump stole the election. I’m here to torment Turley for selling out his country to run interference for Trump and the Republican party. Think you’ll be Trump’s lawyer at the impeachment, Turley? That would fit your character to a T. Notoriety, money, and history all ‘conspiring’ to make you a giant in the legal field. And all you had to do was turn your back on America.

    19 Trump advisers including Trump himself and the nation’s highest lawyer Atty Gen Sessions all lied about their Russian connections. What the hell’s going on? Care to explain Turley? You’ve speculated before.

    Apparently the FBI can only say nice things about the thugs they investigate, otherwise they run the risk of poisoning not only the investigation but the entire investigating body? Right Turley? Didn’t the FBI say Al Capone was a decent community organizer? I mean you can’t run the risk of the DOJ shutting down the investigation into Capone’s murderous rackets bc of mean words from the investigators. Right?

    Confirmation bias was avoided when Mueller removed Strzok. We can review the the work product of Mueller for bias when he completes his investigation. Sort of the same way the republicans have reviewed the FISA application to undermine Mueller’s work. Well, Nunes certainly didn’t read the underlying intelligence that supported his memo. But that’s not bias, that’s oversight.

    Right Turley?

    1. DR – re: “It’s a good thing that Mueller removed Strzok in the early stages of the investigation or else fellow republican conspirators, paranoid right wing authoritarian followers, and law professors might see phantoms of widespread bias and conspiracy”

      REMOVED him? SOB should have been kicked to the curb.

      “As for another example of conspiratorial bias: How about Comey publicly reopening the criminal investigation of Clinton which precipitated a slide in her voter support until election day?”

      A slide in her voter support?! Even against Trump, the other most despised candidate in our short history she still could not generate enthusiasm. Comey’s investigation MAY have affected a few who were going to “hold their noses” and vote, but it was not enough to cost her the election. She was a piss poor candidate.

  2. While all the lies that have been cast by the left and the msm, sadly the bottom line is they will all get away clean.


    The Hillary corollary could see Martha Stewart giving felonious Hillary some advice on prison life.

      1. I am compelled to disagree. Hillary Clinton is one of thee most talented women in the solar system. Hillary Clinton is a certified expert in corruption. Hillary began her illustrious career accepting a $100K bribe from Tyson Chicken in the “cattle futures” episode and look how much she has achieved since then without doing a lick of honest work for a day’s pay – the Clinton Foundation has filled its coffers to the tune of $2 billion with payoffs to its racketeering segment as a result of its global malfeasance operations. Now that’s talent.

  4. I see this as a pathetic attempt by Mr. Comey to try to get his story into the public record when no one is asking for it (yet).

    A bigger question is, will he start spilling tweets about the real reasons why he didn’t want to assist in the prosecution of Hillary Clinton. So far, there was just one lame press conference where he said he didn’t see a reason for any prosecutor to take this case to a jury.

  5. It’s time for Obergruppenfuhrer Mueller to pack up his fascist Brown Shirts and go home…and pray he isn’t indicted for conspiracy, insurrection and treason for his willful and deliberate participation in this coup d’etat in America.

    After one year of a fraudulent investigation, “…the odds are nothing…” that there was “Russian Collusion” by the President in the 2016 election.

    “In an interview with WISN-Milwaukee radio host Jay Weber, Johnson read aloud a May 19, 2017 text that Strzok sent to Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer and his mistress.

    Strzok wrote: “You and I both know the odds are nothing. If I thought it was likely, I’d be there no question. I hesitate in part because of my gut sense and concern that there’s no big there there.”

  6. It is very concerning to discover such rabid partisanship in a former leader of the FBI. These allegations about misconduct by the FBI, and State are serious and should be investigated thoroughly. It also needs to be transparent to the American people.

    “But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,” indeed.

  7. Professor Turley,
    I am a taxpayer (64, of an age) that has witnessed Watergate, Iran-Contra, Whitewater, etc. We the People foot the bill for ALL of these INVESTIGATIONS into the purported wrongdoings of members of our Government. Why are we NOT given regular and timely updates on the progress of the “investigation” along with the costs that have been incurred? I have two sons that are attorneys. They are NOT given a blank check by their clients, nor do they operate in a vacuum, without communicating with their clients. Can We the People insist on a periodic accounting from Mueller or his Special Counsel at this point by petitioning or some other means? I am only a “little old Grandmother”, you know, “one of the forgotten”, you might even call me a “bitter clinger”. I believe we are a Nation of Laws, (that apply equally regardless of your station in life or your NAME) or we are NOT! We are the Special Counsel’s Clients, are we not? Isn’t the underlying reason for the Special Counsel, because
    ultimately there was a lack of accountability??? Hasn’t there been footdragging in producing subpoenaed materials because the various entities really don’t want to submit to being ACCOUNTABLE to oversight? They ALL need to be ACCOUNTABLE to US, but We the People have been held in comtempt by the various Government Agencies or their figureheads that THINK they are ABOVE THE LAW. Or am I mistaken? What did IRS internal emails say about “TEA PARTY” or “Conservative” groups? FBI uses “hillbilliys” (spelled that way), Secretary of State used “Deplorables”, DNC Presidential Candidate used “Bitter Clingers”…etc. The ONLY way to make sure our Government Agencies are NOT Weaponized to be used against We the People is through transparent ACCOUNTABILITY, but how can we be assured the Mueller Investigation is not just another SECRET VENDETTA carried out by a WEAPONIZED DOJ instigated by a disgruntled former employee? I know I am not the only one wondering what WE THE PEOPLE can do.
    Phyllis Gronski

    1. Perfect! By the way: Mueller IS required to submit an expense report every 6 months accounting for the money he’s spent, so there is one minimal form of reporting to his client (We, the people), however the only expense report he’s submitted so far was LATE, and it was INCOMPLETE because it only accounted for his expenditures over the first four or five months of his tenure. His next expense report will be due on the anniversary of his appointment as special counsel. Mark your calendar. I’ve got ten bucks that says it’ll also be late and probably incomplete.

  8. “Potus wants to know everything we’re doing,…”


    “Newly discovered texts exchanged by FBI agent Peter Strzok and his mistress Lisa Page reveal possible involvement by former President Barack Obama in the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, Fox News reports.

    “Potus wants to know everything we’re doing,” Page told Strzok in a text message dated Sept 2, 2016. Page then described preparing former FBI director James Comey to brief Obama on the details of a particular investigation.


    Congressional investigators said the texts could spark an inquiry into the depth of Obama’s knowledge and involvement in the Clinton investigation.

    Page also revealed in her text messages with Strzok that former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe knew of emails discovered on Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s computer on Sept 28, 2016.”

  9. Anyone, of either party, that loves their country should sacrifice 5 minutes of your time and ask your members of Congress to:

    Reduce decades long “classification” designations for 99% of all government secrets. Excessive and long-term secrecy creates an incentive for waste, fraud, abuse and unconstitutional activities. Every government action, even in wartime, is required to circumscribe the U.S. Constitution [a wartime governing charter].

    For example: if officials knew most secrets would be revealed in 5-10 years, they would commit less crimes, less fraud and less abuses.

    Think it was James Madison that essentially said we cannot have democracy with excessive secrecy. Meaning the voters can’t self-govern if left in the dark.

    1. Great comment! Actually, there’s already a federal statute that makes it a crime to conceal federal records. All that’s really necessary is to make it clear, by amendment of the statute if necessary, that classifying information for purposes that have nothing to do with protecting national security amounts to concealment and is therefore criminal under that statute:

      18 U.S. Code § 2071 – Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally: “*** (b) Whoever, having the custody of any such record, *** willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.”

      1. WB – but what recourse do folks have when the Chief Executive holds back records – ie Obama on HRC’s communications regarding the TPP, Susan Rice’s unmasking records transferred to the Obama library so we don’t have access for 5 years….

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