Why Trump Is Wrong on the Comey Report

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Why Trump Is Wrong on the Comey Report

Within hours after the Department of Justice released a long-awaited report of the investigation into former F.B.I. Director James Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, President Trump’s aides and allies were already using it to call into question a different case entirely: Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia and obstruction of justice by the president.

The “report further demonstrates that a fervent anti-Trump bias existed from the very start of the Russia investigation,” tweeted Ronna McDaniel, the Republican Party chairwoman. The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said it “reaffirmed the president’s suspicions about Comey’s conduct and the political bias among some of the members of the F.B.I.”

But the key conclusions of the report, submitted by Michael Horowitz, the department’s inspector general, in no way undermine Mr. Mueller’s investigation. In fact, many of the details the report reveals about the F.B.I.’s actions in the weeks leading up to the election actually undermine the central premise of Mr. Trump’s attacks. As the report explains, Mr. Comey decided to depart from Justice Department policy and announce the reopening of the Clinton email inquiry in part to counter any claim that the F.B.I. was acting in a way calculated to advantage Hillary Clinton by shielding her from additional scrutiny.

Far from seeking to “get” Mr. Trump, Mr. Comey made a public, damaging assessment of his general election rival while remaining silent through the campaign about the F.B.I.’s investigation of confirmed contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The studied silence of the other agents involved in the Russia investigation in the weeks leading up to the election, including the much-maligned Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, further highlights the baselessness of the president’s “deep state” conspiracy claims. While the report notes that the private anti-Trump texts between Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page and others “cast a cloud” over the F.B.I.’s Clinton investigation, the inspector general did not find evidence that any investigation was actually affected by improper considerations, including “political bias.” And after the texts were discovered, Mr. Strzok was taken off the investigation by Mr. Mueller, and Ms. Page resigned from the bureau.

Nor does the report undermine Mr. Comey’s credibility as a witness in the obstruction investigation. While the report criticizes Mr. Comey’s judgment in his handling of the Clinton email investigation, it does not suggest that he was untruthful with anyone at the F.B.I. or the Department of Justice about his actions, including during the inspector general’s investigation. In any “he said, he said” contest between Mr. Comey and the president relating to their conversations about the Russia investigation and Michael Flynn, Mr. Comey’s contemporaneous memos remain strong corroborative evidence of his account of those meetings.

The report also does nothing to vindicate Mr. Trump’s initial assertion that Mr. Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton investigation was the basis for his termination. The president let his real reason out of the bag when he revealed in the Oval Office to the Russian ambassador and foreign minister that the Comey firing relieved “great pressure” related to Russia — and admitted to the journalist Lester Holt that he fired Mr. Comey because of the “Russia thing.” He cannot use the inspector general report to erase those admissions.

As such reports often do, this one covers a grab bag of additional issues — ones that offer no support for Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mr. Mueller, the Justice Department and the F.B.I. For example, while the inspector general has some choice words for former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s lax oversight of Mr. Comey, she was long gone by the time Mr. Mueller commenced his work.

Mr. Trump and his surrogates have from the start been engaged in a smear campaign to discredit the Mueller investigation, starting with their first, spurious claim — nearly a year ago — that Mr. Mueller and members of his team had supposed “conflicts of interest” that disqualified them from working on the Russia investigation. The misrepresentations of the inspector general’s report that have begun, and those sure to follow, are simply be the latest attempt to advance the unsupported refrain that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt” cooked up by members of a “deep state” conspiracy to delegitimize his presidency. It’s not.

On the contrary, the detailed report makes clear the independence of the Justice Department and the value of letting a thorough and fair investigation run its course. That is consistent with recent NBC/Wall Street Journal polling, which indicates that most Americans have confidence that Mr. Mueller is conducting a fair and impartial investigation.

Just as the inspector general has done with respect to the F.B.I.’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, so too should the special counsel be allowed to complete his investigation of Russia’s interference with the election and any efforts by the president or his associates to thwart that investigation, and report his findings to the public. The American people need to know whether the Mr. Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in the 2016 election, and whether President Trump corruptly intervened to stop that or other investigations. We must not allow his persistent efforts to muddy the waters obscure the resolution of those urgent inquiries.

Barry Berke is co-chairman of the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel, where he specializes in white-collar criminal defense. Norman L. Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, is the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Dani James is co-chairwoman of the White Collar Defense and Investigations practice at Kramer Levin Naftalis and Frankel and a former federal prosecutor.

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