Imagine you’re James Comey. Weeks before last November’s election, you decided to flout historical precedent and the attorney general’s recommendation by announcing that the FBI had discovered emails that might — or might not — establish that the Democratic presidential nominee was a criminal. You couldn’t say, one way or the other. Because you hadn’t bothered to see if these “new” emails were mere duplicates of old ones before making their discovery the biggest story in American politics.
Months passed. Your letter kinda, sorta gets a racist reality star elected president of the United States. And the new president’s campaign is under investigation for possible collusion with the Russian government (but you knew that already). He also is, by all accounts, an elderly child who is addicted to cable news; ignorant of the most basic facts about our system of government and world affairs; and overwhelmed by the difficulty of his job.
The fate of the world rests on his shoulders. And that fact rests, in part, on yours.
Now, for the first time, you are going to testify to Congress about your rationale for that infamous October letter. Given the sensitivity of this subject, and the widespread suspicion about the purity of your motives, would you:
(1) Subject your preplanned testimony to vigorous fact-checking, so as to ensure that you don’t mislead the nation again by flubbing some key detail.
(2) Misstate the number of emails that Huma Abedin forwarded to Anthony Weiner by hundreds of thousands; imply that many of these were classified when there is no evidence to support that claim; and then delay any public acknowledgment of your mistakes.
On Tuesday ProPublica revealed that you would take door number two:
FBI director James Comey generated national headlines last week with his dramatic testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, explaining his “incredibly painful” decision to go public about the Hillary Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop.
Perhaps Comey’s most surprising revelation was that Huma Abedin — Weiner’s wife and a top Clinton deputy — had made “a regular practice” of forwarding “hundreds and thousands” of Clinton messages to her husband, “some of which contain classified information.” Comey testified that Abedin had done this so that the disgraced former congressman could print them out for her boss.
… According to two sources familiar with the matter — including one in law enforcement — Abedin forwarded only a handful of Clinton emails to her husband for printing — not the “hundreds and thousands” cited by Comey. It does not appear Abedin made “a regular practice” of doing so. Other officials said it was likely that most of the emails got onto the computer as a result of backups of her BlackBerry.
As for that “classified information”: None of the messages were marked as classified at the time they were sent, according to ProPublica. And 10 of the 12 emails that were subsequently deemed to contain classified information landed on Weiner’s computer through those BlackBerry backups — not via forwarded emails, the FBI admitted Tuesday afternoon.
These are rather important distinctions. As Ted Cruz observed at last week’s hearing, Comey’s narrative suggests Abedin engaged in (arguably) criminal behavior. Sensationalist headlines in the New York Post and New York Daily News echoed Comey’s damning insinuations:
But, once again, the reality of Huma Abedin’s email habits appears far more benign than the FBI director led America to believe. Still, it took the bureau several days – and one widely read ProPublica report – to correct the record.
Last week, Comey said that he did not regret his October letter, and would write it again, given the opportunity. The fact that he felt compelled to buttress his “they brought this on themselves” narrative with wild exaggerations about Abedin’s conduct could be read as a sign of Comey’s guilty conscience — or of the very opposite.