FBI director James Comey’s recent dick-move just landed him in trouble. Richard Painter, the chief White House Ethics Lawyer in the Bush Administration, published a strongly-worded op-ed in the New York Times to explain why he filed a complaint against Comey which could warrant prosecution under the Hatch Act.
The Hatch Act forbids the FBI director in engaging in political activity. That’s something Comey should already know about it.
Painter begins by using the recent hacking by Russians as an example:
Imagine a possible connection between a candidate for president in the United States and the Russian computer hacking. Imagine the candidate has business dealings in Russia, and has publicly encouraged the Russians to hack the email of his opponent and her associates.
It would not be surprising for the F.B.I. to include this candidate and his campaign staff in its confidential investigation of Russian computer hacking.
Painter explains that “it would be highly improper, and an abuse of power, for the F.B.I. to conduct such an investigation in the public eye, particularly on the eve of the election.”
“It would be an abuse of power for the director of the F.B.I., absent compelling circumstances, to notify members of Congress from the party opposing the candidate that the candidate or his associates were under investigation,” Painter writes. “It would be an abuse of power if F.B.I. agents went so far as to obtain a search warrant and raid the candidate’s office tower, hauling out boxes of documents and computers in front of television cameras.”
“The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election,” Painter states.
Then Painter brings up the Hatch Act, which bars an official from influencing an election.
He further states:
And that is why, on Saturday, I filed a complaint against the F.B.I. with the Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations, and with the Office of Government Ethics. I have spent much of my career working on government ethics and lawyers’ ethics, including two and a half years as the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, and I never thought that the F.B.I. could be dragged into a political circus surrounding one of its investigations. Until this week.
Painter notes that Comey’s letter quickly circulated on the Internet.
On Friday, the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, sent to members of Congress a letter updating them on developments in the agency’s investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s emails, an investigation which supposedly was closed months ago. This letter, which was quickly posted on the internet, made highly unusual public statements about an F.B.I. investigation concerning a candidate in the election. The letter was sent in violation of a longstanding Justice Department policy of not discussing specifics about pending investigations with others, including members of Congress. According to some news reports on Saturday, the letter was sent before the F.B.I. had even obtained the search warrant that it needed to look at the newly discovered emails. And it was sent days before the election, at a time when many Americans are already voting.
Violations of the Hatch Act and of government ethics rules on misuse of official positions are not permissible in any circumstances, including in the case of an executive branch official acting under pressure from politically motivated members of Congress. Such violations are of even greater concern when the agency is the F.B.I.
Comey released his bizarre letter while Hillary Clinton was on a flight without an Internet connection. No Wi-Fi, nothing. The Democratic presidential nominee was set up by the director of the FBI for political reasons. The investigation was into Anthony Weiner’s sexting but now it’s on center stage in the presidential election because Trump is using it as a tool to promote his candidacy. That’s some real political fuckery right there.
Photo by Alex Wong via Getty.