On Friday, James Comey announced that the FBI had discovered emails that appear pertinent to its investigation of Hillary Clinton, but not necessarily significant to that investigation. Which is to say, just 11 days before the end of the 2016 campaign, the director of the FBI publicly suggested that he had evidence that could, theoretically, implicate the Democratic nominee in some sort of crime (but which, ya know, probably doesn’t). Oh, and he “cannot predict how long it will take” for him to figure that out, one way or the other.
Unsurprisingly, this missive was met by a torrent of liberal outrage, which only grew stronger amid news that Comey had defied the Justice Department’s wishes in making his statement. Several former high-level DOJ appointees and legal experts, from both sides of the aisle, condemned the FBI director for violating a long-standing taboo against speaking publicly about ongoing investigations in close proximity to Election Day.
The rationale behind this norm is straightforward: Law enforcement can unduly bias the public against a candidate if it publicizes the existence of an investigation into him or her, only to find, after Election Day, that there is insufficient evidence to establish criminal wrongdoing (this is the most likely outcome of the current Clinton inquiry).
Still, despite the clarity of this argument — and the bipartisan character of the former officials making it — one would assume that elected Republicans and right-wing commentators would cheer the move nonetheless. Sure, some former members of George W. Bush’s administration might wag their fingers at Comey, but that same lot has been wagging their fingers at Donald Trump throughout the 2016 campaign.
And yet a surprising number of “lock her up” conservatives have found themselves discomfited by Comey’s letter.
Joe Walsh is not what you’d call a RINO squish: After five Dallas police officers were murdered by a mass shooter last summer, the former Illinois congressman declared, “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”
But even would-be insurrectionists think some norms are worth upholding.
On Monday, Walsh was joined by Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, the chairman of the tea-party-aligned House Freedom Caucus.
“I think this was probably not the right thing for Comey to do — the protocol here — to come out this close to an election, but this whole case has been mishandled and now it is what it is,” Jordan told Fox News radio host Brian Kilmeade.
And Karl Rove may be proud of America’s torture program, but that doesn’t mean he condones every abuse of power.
Also in the “reactionaries for an impartial FBI” camp is Trump supporter and Fox News personality Judge Jeanine Pirro, who said Saturday,“You know I support Donald Trump and want him to win, but whether it’s Hillary Clinton or anyone else, Comey’s actions violate not only long-standing Justice Department policy … but the most fundamental rules of fairness and impartiality.”
Still, Comey can at least take comfort in knowing that he’s regained the respect of one prominent Republican.
“It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” Donald Trump told supporters in Michigan on Monday. “It took a lot of guts.”