The Mysterious James Comey

Published Feb. 13, 2017 in the Washington Monthly. ( Link to article)

The FBI must have known that Michael Flynn illegally discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

On February 10, the Washington Post ran an above-the-fold story stating that — according to multiple government sources — Michael Flynn, President Trump’s national security adviser, took a phone call from Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and discussed U.S sanctions against that country. Since the call took place on December 29, three weeks before the inauguration, the call itself would have been irregular even if the subject matter discussed had been innocuous.

The fact that it occurred on the day the Obama administration applied additional sanctions on Russia made the call a curious coincidence. The Post cited numerous senior government officials claiming that Flynn discussed those sanctions with Russia’s ambassador, making the call highly improper at a minimum. CBS News led its story with the suggestion that Flynn may have violated the law. Increasing the appearance of wrongdoing was Flynn’s previous assertion that he had not discussed policy matters, and that he had only conveyed greetings and discussed arrangements for a post-inaugural phone call between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It is a good bet that the media will make heavy weather of the issue of whether a person can be charged with the Logan Act, a law prohibiting unauthorized private individuals from conducting diplomacy with foreign powers — a law which has never been used to prosecute anybody. They will ask whether the national security adviser is fit to serve, given his seeming lack of truthfulness regarding the phone call, his poor policy judgment, and his chumminess with Putin. There is also the embarrassing matter of Vice President Mike Pence already having publicly asserted that Flynn did not discuss the sanctions issue.

Beyond that, the Flynn-Kislyak affair raises all manner of uncomfortable questions about the administration that has been installed, its relations with Russia, and the whole sordid business of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and its political fallout. It also makes one wonder about the degree to which counterintelligence and law enforcement in this country have been compromised.

Oddly enough, the latest flood of stories about the phone call comes three weeks after the incident had supposedly been safely put to rest. On January 23, the Post reported that the FBI had investigated the phone call (which certainly would have been recorded, as the Russian ambassador would be a legitimate person of interest for U.S. intelligence), and found “nothing illicit.” “Illicit,” like its close cousins “wrongdoing” and “appearance of impropriety,” is Washington-speak for hanky-panky that may or may not be illegal, depending on the mood of a U.S. attorney when she gets out of bed in the morning.

But the Logan Act is U.S. statute. A prosecutor may not seek an indictment, but it is certainly worth knowing about, particularly when the person involved is the national security adviser-designee and the third party is an official of an adversarial power. Yet the same FBI found no cause to mention it even though its director — James Comey — became compulsively talkative about Hillary Clinton’s apparent poor judgment and sloppiness (she, however, broke no laws). Compounding Comey’s July talkathon, mere days before the November election, he dragged in Anthony Weiner’s pathetic emails, seemingly in an attempt to tie them in the public’s mind to Candidate Clinton, even though there was no discernible law enforcement relevance to her. His unusual actions themselves became a subject of Justice Department investigation.

Comey’s almost pathological volubility with regard to all matters Clinton stands in stark contrast to his stony refusal even to intimate that Trump’s Russia ties were a subject of investigation, and his tardiness in signing on with the other sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies on concurring in a report on Russian hacking of the DNC. And after the New Year came his agency’s absolution of Flynn, in contradiction of dozens of subsequently published articles on the matter. It makes one wonder why Trump appeared to give Comey an omertà kiss in the White House on the weekend of the inauguration.

That leaves us with one remaining question: whose chump is James B. Comey, Jr?