- - Monday, May 15, 2017


The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on. James Comey has moved on, too, and even the loudest dogs are moving on to the canine duty of barking after President Trump as he selects the Comey successor as director of the FBI.

Mr. Comey is surely entitled to one last moment of reflection: What would anyone else have done, trying to unravel the tangled affairs of Hillary Clinton? Mr. Comey’s alternatives were the stuff of true dilemma. Should he have ignored the obvious breach of the nation’s espionage law and let Hillary off the hook, or cite a presidential candidate headed for a landslide victory with felony charges just weeks before the national election? Such a decision would have been easy only for those who wouldn’t have had to make it.

The end came abruptly, a conclusion fit for a particularly cruel and antagonistic age. Mr. Trump terminated the director of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency not with his signature television punchline, “You’re fired!” but with a perfunctory letter, which arrived after everyone in the world knew he had been dismissed, ending with “I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors,” a throwaway line that could have been written by any corporate hack. It was missing only the assurance that Mr. Comey would be in the president’s “thoughts and prayers.”

On the scout for any scent of scandal with which to blacken the Trump White House, the Washington press claque rooted about like blind pigs in search of truffles for inconsistencies in the official termination timeline: Did the president reach the decision on this own, or did Mr. Comey’s new boss, Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, provide the coup de grace? Did Mr. Trump browbeat the FBI director during a dinner into confirming that the agency was not investigating him? The endless nitpicking of accounts of how the act went down led Mr. Trump to tweet a threat (no doubt empty) to shut down the daily White House press briefings.

Reporters are only human (it says here), and slip between the sheets at night to dream of taking down a president, just like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein dispatched Richard Nixon. After eight years in the thrall of Barack Obama, the chance to eviscerate a Republican president so despised by the left was an opportunity of a lifetime.

Whether Mr. Trump reached his decision to fire Mr. Comey after pondering the issue on his own, duly considered the recommendations of advisers, or acted on a whim, the director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the president. Mr. Comey acknowledged that himself in a farewell letter to the agency: “I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t, either.”

Mr. Comey’s fate was never going to be a simple tale of competence or lack thereof. Since Democrats had anointed Hillary (with neither joy nor enthusiasm) as the inevitable president, the story was destined to be how the jurisprudence would be bent, folded, spindled or mutilated to accommodate someone held to be above the law. When Attorney General Loretta Lynch disqualified herself from deciding whether to charge Hillary, and announced she would accept the FBI’s recommendation, Mr. Comey became the designated fall guy. He no doubt heard a voice in his head that sounded like that of a crackhead mayor of the nation’s capital: “The bitch set me up.”

The ancient Greeks had a name for this, tragedy. Not in the sense of a widespread human suffering, but of a perplexing dilemma that human understanding, with all its frailties, cannot unravel. Shortly before his firing, Mr. Comey reflected on his handling of the Clinton email scandal: “I’ve gotten all kinds of rocks thrown at me, and this has been really hard, but I think I’ve done the right thing at every turn.”

Faced with outraged Democrats on one side and angry Republicans on the other, Mr. Comey appears to be at peace with what he had to do, even if no one else is. He’s entitled to the usual “thoughts and prayers.”

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