Below is my column in USA Today on the rapid demise of James Comey and Andrew McCabe, who have fulfilled the very stereotypes drawn by President Donald Trump. Comey continues to spin the controversy over his book as fulfilling what he saw as a need for ethical leadership (i.e., Comey himself). Comey acknowledged that he never asked Mueller if he should wait on the book. Why? If you are so committed to the FBI and this investigation, why would you not ask about the possibly deleterious effects of a tell-all book (which discussed both public and nonpublic evidence). Clearly the book was not helpful to the investigation, but that did not matter to Comey who saw the greater need as advancing himself as the personification of virtue and ethics — while cashing in on the first tell-all book from a former FBI Director.
Here is the column:
President Donald Trump has long shown the unique ability to bring out the worst in people. It is by design. Trump will name call, badger, and taunt until critics lose their professional or personal control. They fulfill the stereotypes and caricatures that Trump creates for them. It is a strange skill set that most of us would not want to cultivate but its success cannot be denied this week.
In one week, two of Trump’s most stalwart critics — James Comey and Andrew McCabe — took headers from what most people viewed as moral high ground. Both Comey and McCabe have launched public campaigns attacking their critics and cashing in with people who are willing to ignore clearly unprofessional conduct.McCabe and his GoFundMe windfall
Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe has long been a focus of Trump’s ire. His wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, received roughly $700,000 from a close Clinton ally and the state Democratic party in her campaign as a Democrat for the Virginia legislature. McCabe would later play a key role in the Clinton investigation and is mentioned in emails that are viewed as overtly hostile to Trump.
Trump’s attacks on McCabe were largely exaggerated and unsupported. The nexus between his wife’s campaign and the investigation is tenuous at best. However, equally tenuous is McCabe’s nexus between Trump and his own termination. McCabe was fired after an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Inspector General’s Office — both offices run by and staffed by career officials. Moreover, the investigation of McCabe began a week before Trump was sworn in. It preceded and had no connection to Mueller.
After his termination, McCabe immediately attacked the career staff as unfairly targeting him. His attacks became increasingly Trump-like as he described what the president loves to call “a witch hunt.” None of it made sense. Whatever was in the report motivated FBI Director Christopher Wray to push McCabe into an immediate terminal leave after reviewing the summary weeks ago. Furthermore, it was the career staff that recommended his termination — an unprecedented decision for a former acting FBI Director.
With the release of the report looming, McCabe quickly created a GoFundMe page that portrayed himself as a victim before the facts were released by the IG. He repeatedly increased the target goal and quickly raised over $500,000 from the hopelessly gullible. He then shut down the page just before the report was released. The report is now out and the career staff found that McCabe suffered a “lack of candor” (read: lied) not once but four times about leaking information to the media. Moreover, it concluded that he took the action not in the public’s interest but his own personal interest.
Now McCabe’s lawyer is threatening lawsuit in Michael Cohen-like blasts. His attorney declared that he is pursuing possible defamation lawsuits against “the president and senior members of the administration” for “wrongful termination, defamation, constitutional violations and more.” He added the Cohenesque taunt of “Thank you for providing even more material for the defamation suit we are actively considering filing against you and your colleagues. Stay tuned.” Most of us would rather not.
James Comey and the tell-all book
This week Comey became the first former FBI Director to write a tell-all book that is already raking in massive profits. It is not just the tenor but the timing of the book that is so controversial. Comey was in charge of a still ongoing investigation and is a cooperating witness in that investigation. Yet, he decided to rush a book to print to discuss both public and non-public evidence. He seemed to take a lesson from Trump who once said, “Remember, there’s no such thing as an unrealistic goal — just unrealistic time frames.” Waiting for the end of the investigation was simply unrealistic if you wanted to maximize book sales. It did not matter that such a book can only undermine an investigation (and Comey’s value as a witness).
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership is a transparently self-serving and distorted account of Comey’s struggle with Trump, who is portrayed as a virtual soul-snatcher with a mob-boss demeanor. Yet, the book panders to the most petty elements to sell this story. Consider how he sets the scene for what he describes as a historic meeting:
“His face appeared slightly orange with bright white half-moons under his eyes where I assumed he placed small tanning goggles, and impressively coifed, bright blond hair, which upon close inspection looked to be all his … As he extended his hand, I made a mental note to check its size. It was smaller than mine, but did not seem unusually so.”
Comey goes on in the book and his interview this week with George Stephanopoulosto gratuitously question Trump’s marriage while declaring that there is evidence of obstruction by Trump. He further emphasized that it is “possible” that Trump engaged in a “golden shower” with Russian prostitutes in Moscow and that the Russians have compromising dirt on him. Comey has no evidence to support these claims. He indicates simply that it is “possible” — which predictably caused a sensation … and sales. Of course, it is also possible that Trump did in Jimmy Hoffa and runs a panda-skinning operation in the White House. For a former FBI director to engage in such speculation over salacious claims (in the midst of an investigation) is a new low even in a city plagued by sleazy tell-all books.
Comey has succeeded in proving Trump’s point. After facing bipartisan calls for his termination after discussing evidence against an unindicted person (Hillary Clinton), he is back doing the very same thing with Trump. On both occasions, he acted for his own interest not the public’s interest.
Since being fired, Comey has also been accused of removing memos that he prepared during the investigation against FBI rules. Four of the seven memos are considered classified and he gave four to a friend to leak the information to the media. Instead of giving the memos to investigators or Congress, Comey (the man tasked with finding leakers) became a leaker himself. He then followed Trump to Twitter where he first lurked under a pseudonym and then started tweeting out attacks to the delight of his followers.
Ironically, Trump may prove to be just the moral hazard that Comey describes. After all, both Comey and McCabe ultimately failed the moral hazard that they breathlessly recount in their public campaigns. They yielded to temptation and will be richer as a result. The cost will fall not on them but on their colleagues and the FBI they used to lead.
Jonathan Turley, a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University, where he teaches constitutional and tort law. Follow him on Twitter: @JonathanTurley.