“Let’s Just Send A Couple Of Guys Over”: Comey Admits Another Violation Of Department Protocol and Policy

Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the recent admission by James Comey that he intentionally circumvented the White House Counsel and Justice Department protocol to send two agents to interview then National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.  It is a subject that will hopefully be raised this week when Comey appears again before Congress on Monday. Comey describes his sudden realization that he could “get away with” sending “a couple guys over” to the White House. Comey’s epiphany could be his epitaph. 

Here is the column:

“I probably wouldn’t have … gotten away with it.” Those words this week from former FBI Director James Comey could well be chiseled in marble as his epitaph. He was explaining another violation of bureau policy during his tenure days after meeting behind closed doors with House members.

What was shocking was not that Comey violated protocols or policies again but the reaction of the audience to his admission. In describing how he set up a critical meeting with Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Trump, the audience was audibly thrilled by his cleverness in keeping Flynn unrepresented by legal counsel and unaware of the true nature of the meeting. Scheduled to testify to House members again next week, Comey may find a less rapturous reception in Congress.

In his interview in New York City, Nicole Wallace asked him, “It’s hard to imagine two FBI agents ending up in the State Room. How did that happen?” The audience erupted when Comey said dryly, “I sent them. Something we’ve, I probably wouldn’t have done or maybe gotten away with in a more organized investigation, a more organized administration. In the George W. Bush administration … or the Obama administration, two men that all of us, perhaps, have increased appreciation for over the last two years. In both of those administrations there was process.” He revealed, “So if the FBI wanted to send agents into the White House itself to interview a senior official, you would work through the White House counsel and there would be discussions and approvals and it would be there. I thought, ‘It’s early enough, let’s just send a couple of guys over.’”

Just send a couple of guys over. One line could not more aptly capture Comey and his own professed view of “ethical leadership.” The interview confirmed what some of us have written about Comey for more than two years. The media consistently reinforced his image as a rules driven and principled public servant, often referring to him as an almost naive Eagle Scout. The Washington Post even ran the headline, “Boy Scout James Comey is no match for Donald Trump.” Yet, the history of Comey shows both an overriding interest in his own actions as well as a willingness to violate rules to achieve that interest. But his comments, including a call to the public to defeat Trump in a “landslide” in the next election, have stripped away any remaining pretense. The fact is, there often was more pretense than principle in his final years as director.

Consider his conduct during the 2016 presidential election, leading up to his controversial press conference and public announcements, which were widely condemned by both Republicans and Democrats. As here, Comey failed to inform the Justice Department or the attorney general of his intended action. In doing so, he was far outside the clear policies and protocols. Indeed, the first public act of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was to issue a memo excoriating Comey for his “serious mistakes” and citing former federal judges, attorneys general, and leading prosecutors who believed that Comey “violated longstanding Justice Department policies and tradition” along with “his obligation to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ the traditions of the department and the FBI.” Rosenstein further added that Comey “refused to admit his errors.”

Then there was Comey’s response to being fired. He removed memos on his meetings with President Trump related to the Russia investigation, then leaked those to the media. The Justice Department rejected Comey’s claims that these were his memos, not FBI material. Some of the material was classified. He violated core FBI rules in removing the memos, and the man tasked to find leakers became a leaker as soon as it suited his own interests. He also undermined the investigation by revealing to Trump and others that the memos existed, information that investigators likely preferred to remain secret before they conducted key interviews.

Then Comey published a book, a sharp departure from prior directors, that discussed the ongoing Russia investigation. He did not pause before rushing it to the shelves, revealing details of the investigation and various meetings while making a fortune for himself. Now Comey has again admitted to violating rules and protocols, by setting up Flynn. Ironically, Comey criticized Trump for breaking protocols in meeting with him alone and asking about an ongoing investigation. He was right in that criticism because there is a formal process for communications between the FBI and the White House. Yet, the same protocols go the other way. If the FBI seeks to interview White House officials in an investigation, they go through the Justice Department, which communicates with White House counsel to arrange the interview. He evaded both in ordering the move.

What was Comey’s justification? Because he could. He refers to the “process” of other administrations. That process, however, was still in place and did not change. Moreover, he noted that he thought he could get away with it because this was “early” in the administration. That is not principle. It is opportunism. He was supposed to work through the Justice Department and not simply follow the rules only if he might be caught breaking them. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates is cited in some recently released FBI material as being irate over his decision.

There is a reason for the policy of conferring with counsel. It protects not just the individual but the institution. It prevents rogue or impulsive actions and maintains a clear chain of command within the Justice Department. It is part of the internal rules in how the components of the executive branch function and communicate with each other to preserve both independence and proper review. It is part of the very delicate relationship that Comey accused Trump of violating. There was nothing noble in Comey seeking to reduce the chance that Flynn might have legal counsel. Those same liberals applauding him wildly would presumably be appalled if a police detective proudly described how he prevented a criminal suspect from speaking to a lawyer simply because he could.

Flynn ultimately bears responsibility for any false statements. As special counsel Robert Mueller noted in a court filing, he should have known better, and we should not forget that Flynn ultimately pleaded guilty to lying. However, that does not mean the circumstances or the conduct of FBI officials are irrelevant. The agents, including Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, who were both later fired by the FBI for their actions in this investigation, admitted that they discussed warning Flynn about criminal liability for false statements. They warned other witnesses, like former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos. Yet, they not only omitted that warning with Flynn but did not raise a conflict in his denying that sanctions were discussed with Russian diplomats. They also encouraged Flynn not to bring a lawyer or to inform the White House counsel. Instead, they arranged a meeting just hours after a telephone call with McCabe.

Ultimately, the agents recounted that they did not believe Flynn deliberately lied at the time. Moreover, Flynn told McCabe that he assumed McCabe had read the full transcript of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, an apparent reference to his knowledge that Russian embassy phones were tapped. The comment further raises the question of why Flynn would lie about discussing sanctions if he recalled the discussion and knew of the wiretap. Yet, Comey seemed to delight the audience by taking credit for keeping Flynn in the dark about the FBI interview. When Wallace asked what Flynn thought the FBI agents wanted, Comey replied, “I don’t think he knew. I know we didn’t tell him.” Actually, Comey didn’t tell anyone. Not the White House counsel, not the acting attorney general, not the Justice Department. He “just sent a couple of guys over” to the White House because he could “get away with it.”

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

182 thoughts on ““Let’s Just Send A Couple Of Guys Over”: Comey Admits Another Violation Of Department Protocol and Policy”

  1. The fanboys and ball baggers of the day glo bozo might want to ponder the words of one Paula Duncan as they ponder that crescendoing ticking sound, by considering that

    “the essence of American governance was best summed up by Paula Duncan, the Trump enthusiast who was among the jurors who found Mr. Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort guilty of fraud, even though she had hoped he wouldn’t be convicted.

    Explaining her decision after the verdict, she told Fox News, ‘No one’s above the law.’”

    Do not ask for whom the bell tolls….

  2. After the sentencing hearing today, anybody here still wish to claim Flynn was entrapped or didn’t really lie? The judge was ready to send him to prison on the spot and made him and his attorneys back off even the suggestion the FBI acted wrongly. He also questioned in open court whether the government could have charged Flynn with treason? Fox News is working overtime I’m sure trying to spin this in Flynn’s favor. The war hero that was wronged.

    1. enigma – and yet, Judge Sullivan put off the sentencing again. Sullivan ripped Mueller’s lawyers and still did not sanction or hold them in contempt. I think we seeing some Kabuki Theatre.

      1. If what you got out of the hearing was that Judge Sullivan ripped Mueller’s team, you should check the transcript. It was Flynn’s lawyers that had to take responsibility for the suggestion that Flynn wasn’t really a liar and somehow didn’t know he was breaking the law. The thing Mueller’s lawyers might be guilty of is giving Flynn too good a deal.

        1. enigma – Sullivan ripped Mueller’s team in an earlier hearing. Sorry if I confused you. I just do not want you to get your hopes up. 😉

          1. Paul – My hopes are buoyed by 17 separate criminal and civil investigations, multiple indictments and guilty pleadings and many more to come. Every day breaking news of Trump criminality, today the State of New York forcibly shut down the Trump Foundation, banned the Trump’s from serving on any New York charity boards and is dispersing the remaining funds lest Trump use them for more self-dealing like buying portraits of himself. It was a good day!

          1. Paul – The Kabuki Theatre is the mere notion that Trump and the majority of his administration think of America first. I wonder how many will be left standing, including the President by the end of his first term?

  3. Here are some more gifts that are sure to make Trumpies sweat:

    President Donald Trump’s personal charity will shut down and disperse whatever funds it still has under a new agreement announced Tuesday by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood.

    The attorney general’s office sued the Trump Foundation in June, alleging the president and several of his children used it for their personal and political benefit. That lawsuit, which seeks millions of dollars in restitution, will continue, even as the foundation agrees to cease existence.

    https://www.politico.com/story/2018/12/18/trump-foundation-to-shut-down-1067924

  4. So much for Darrell Issa’s prediction that Flynn’s conviction would be thrown out.

    But you got to love the Republican excuse making. It is OK to lie to law enforcement until they warn you that lying is criminal. The party of corruption truly.

    1. Not much of a prosecutor, are you?

      The ‘crime’ which he committed does not exist in New York State law and in regard to federal law, they had to stretch to get it to apply to his case. They were also interrogating about matters none of the FBI’s busines.

      Partisan Democrats are innocent of honor, innocent of decency, and should be given no quarter.

      1. Mueller’s team rebutted these claims by noting the FBI officials followed proper interview protocol, releasing the details notes from bureau agents about the White House sit-down.

        Both Mueller and Flynn agreed in court that he did lie to the bureau. The FBI has also never concluded Flynn didn’t lie.

  5. Comey may have his issues but whatever they are, they aren’t partisan. He is a lifelong Republican and an Ashcroft protégé. He’s no closet liberal. But he is a sane man who saw that pack of grifters in the White House for the crooks and corrupt hustlers that they were and are. I’m glad he did everything he did and I don’t think he has any reason to be either more diplomatic or less open in condemning our crooked President or his even more crooked deputies.

    1. So you’re glad the head of our premier law enforcement agency violated internal agency policy and laws to clear a proven violator of the law so she could run for president, and at the same time facilitate the weaponization of his agency against her political opponent. Hmm, I don’t care what his party affiliation is, who his mentor was, or whether he leans Left or Right; that conduct is criminal and anyone that supports it is a threat to civil society.

      1. Haha. Right. You’re in the exact same boat as the “Kenyan” “Uranium One” “Benghazi” “the dead guy” and “some foreign chick with computers” wackjobs are. Don’t try to spin like you give two sh*ts about “justice” or “I don’t care what party” or “care whether they lean left or right.” You are judged by the company you keep; your fellow travelers are nothing more than a gaggle of gullible rubes, dupes, klan wannabees, pocket-traitors (and so many of them?!) and grifters on the make. Enjoy your repartee with your cohorts as you collectively ponder that most salient of questions: “What is that ticking sound?”

        this is to “I’m ‘secret’ friends with hannity on facebook” olly

    2. Horuss – Comey is a crook who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and now is complaining about it. He is a disgruntled fired employee. Fired for good cause.

      1. PC Schulte,
        ..
        I would agree with the statement by Horuss that Comey was pretty much non-partisan.
        But he did manage to do more damage to the FBI than any Director since Hoover.
        Comey probably places himself above partisan politics, and I think that’s largely true in the sense that he is non-partisan.
        Comey also seems to place hinself above virtually any human being as The Great Moral Arbitrator; that observation was widely made long before he was fired, and it was an accurate and largely bi-partisan criticism of Comey.
        It is that characteristic that caused him to overstep his position as head of the FBI and blunder into putting himself and the FBI front and center into political firestorms.
        Judging by the actions of his top deputies like Strzok and McCabe, Comey did not seem to have firm leadership and control of the agency he headed for c.3 years.
        In that short span, however, he did manage to become the most famous FBI Director since J. Edgar Hoover.😉😊

    1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me twenty-four citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after twenty-six weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – you would know if anyone was making stuff up if any one did.

        1. David Benson is the God Emperor of Making Stuff Up and owes me twenty-four citations (one from the OED, one from the town ordinances and two from the Old Testament), an equation and the source of a quotation, after twenty-six weeks, and needs to cite all his work from now on. – I am not the one who is typing in “place holder” for a comment. Make sure those students are doing a wellness check on you every day.

  6. If only Trump didn’t win, then we wouldn’t have had to go through all this. The Washington establishment does not like outsiders coming to their party.

  7. Bob, write Trump now! Send this letter & add your comments.

    Ask him WTF, why haven’t you arrested those that are clearly Traitors to the nation.

    1. Presidents don’t make arrests, Oky. We don’t give them power. The founding fathers feared that presidents like Trump would abuse such power.

      1. PH.

        WoW!, you’re surely sh*ting me?

        I guess George Washington shouldn’t have Ordered those Deserters to line up & have their heads blown Off!

        Yelling…. Trump, Don’t Arrest Them, just line them up for the Firing Squad as PH recommends! LOL;)

        WoW, I don’t know you were that hard core being from Hollywood & all. LOL

      2. Oh, I am very sure that the abuse you refer to was done by the Obama admin., and the Clinton Admin. So, don’t be so holier than thou.

        1. Haha. Riiight. Riddle me this: which administration has had more indictments and guilty pleas? Pro tip: President Clinton has been out of office for over 20 years; you, your ilk, hannity and the other wackjobs need some new material.

          this is to “crimes are okay as long as old white guys doing them” bobbie

      3. PH,

        NDAA:

        Here’s more info on what Trump could do to Rat Rosenstein,Mueller, his crew, including Comey, MCCabe the jerk of Stroker & Page, etc, Obama, H Clinton:

        1. hey, sounds like China! government can call anybody an enemy and detain them without warrant, habeas corpus, nothing. wow~!

          well, hope we can use that on them before they use it on us!

  8. https://youtu.be/ngIKjpucQh8

    veteran retired CIA analyst and patriot Ray McGovern on Russians and the CIA and Hillary and the whole kit and caboodle.

    Ray is not a Trumpophile, he is a sincere liberal, voted for Jill Stein, but breaks down the truth of the matter

    1. Mr Kurtz,

      I like Ray McGovern & he has at least one great idea: Get the CIA completely out of operations & limit them to gathering Intel & writing reports.

      Another great idea comes from Dr Steve Pieczenik, former under Secretary of State, right after 911 when agents told him they knew the attack was coming but said knowing because their pensions.

      I’ve heard that excuse fore inaction myself on the local level.

      Dr Pieczenik’s solution Get Rid of All Government Pensions!!!!

      I couldn’t more strongly agree!

    2. @Kurtz, love to see this guy on OAN or FOX do a couple hour breakdown on all this stuff. I say OAN or FOX based on his own analysis of MSM.

      1. Excellent. But you left out infowars, brietbart and the other random, obscure, loser-loner wackjob sites. Please post more materials Just. Like. This.

        this is to “I’m tuned into the ‘real’ news here in mom’s basement” zambi

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