Andrew Rosenthal, the former Editorial Page Editor of the New York Times, who has never met a Republican he couldn’t call a racist, has joined Paul Krugman in James Comey conspiracy land. In a Wednesday post, Rosenthal accused the FBI director of trying to swing the election to Donald Trump.
There are two possible explanations for James Comey’s decision to announce last week that he was examining emails that “appear to be pertinent” to the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
One explanation, which I tend to believe, is that Comey, the director of the F.B.I., set out to interfere in the campaign on behalf of the Republican Party, a shocking act that would render him unfit for his powerful office.
But to keep his conspiracy theory afloat, Rosenthal had to dance around the inconvenient fact that Comey closed the investigation of Hillary Clinton this summer without recommending charges:
(In that scenario, the aim may have not primarily been to help Donald Trump, but to preserve the Republican majorities in Congress, which suddenly seemed in danger this fall. Can you imagine how intense the pressure on Comey from the Hill must have been following his announcement this summer that the investigation was being closed?)
The other possible explanation is that he acted out of what you might charitably call a sense of moral rectitude. I think it’s better described as self-righteousness -- a dangerous current in modern right-wing politics that has its roots in the rise of the Moral Majority, which aimed to make politics a choice between good values (the right’s) and bad values (the left’s) rather than a competition of ideas.
Certainly, Comey was not acting out of respect for protocol, ethics and procedure.
We know his announcement went against policy and tradition, which call for the F.B.I. to stay out of politics. Earlier this year, in fact, the F.B.I. decided not to pursue cases involving Trump and Clinton to avoid meddling in the election. The Justice Department strongly urged Comey not to make his recent statement about the so-called new evidence.
That same wholly nonpolitical Justice Department led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who chatted with Bill Cilnton on a tarmac while the Clintons were the subject of a federal investigation?
What law enforcement officer, by the way, announces that he is going to conduct a search before even obtaining a warrant?
Which brings us back to self-righteousness.
After giving him half-hearted credit for the “one gutsy act” of “stopping President George W. Bush’s minions from getting a barely conscious Attorney General John Ashcroft to authorize Bush’s illegal wiretapping operation," Rosenthal promptly turned it against Comey: “did he relish the chance to assert that he, and not the president, was right?...but Comey has always enjoyed flexing his power.”
And now Comey is telling his staff that he felt compelled to tell Congress about the extra set of emails (which the F.B.I. most likely already saw in its original investigation) because, well, golly, he promised he would keep Congress informed.
It’s just not believable.
The idea that he wanted to help his political party is pretty terrifying. But the idea that he acted out of moral self-righteousness is not much more reassuring, given the immense powers of his office.
He traced the problem to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority in 1979, which led “to the misogynist, racist and xenophobic politics of Trump and the Republican far right.”
By the end, a flummoxed Rosenthal was reduced to respouting his original conspiracy theory.
Was Comey setting out to change the election results to benefit his own party and its leaders in Congress? Or was he posing as the owner of the moral high ground?