Morning Joe Wails: IG Report on Comey ‘Reads Like a Talk Radio Script’

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On Friday, MSNBC’s Morning Joe turned to a personal friend of ex-FBI Director James Comey to denounce the Justice Department Inspector General report that blasted Comey for leaking sensitive information about private conversations with President Trump to the press. Host Joe Scarborough started off the discussion by complaining that the IG’s conclusion “reads like a talk radio script.”

While touting an article ripping the IG report from Lawfare editor Benjamin Wittes, a self-proclaimed friend of Comey, Scarborough ranted: “So Benjamin, this is – what a fascinating report, about 80-90% of it is Jack Webb, ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ And then the last 10% of the report reads like a talk radio script. The two don’t go together.” The host added that he was “fairly shocked at how undisciplined” it was.

 

 

Wittes predictably agreed:

Yeah, it’s a deficient piece of work product in the last ten pages....the last ten pages are a kind of howl of rage and anger by the Inspector General....the Inspector General of the Justice Department has effectively taken the position that if you’re a law enforcement officer and the President tries to shut down a valid investigation, your obligation is to shut up.

Scarborough doubled down on that wild assertion: “It’s a reckless conclusion and suggests that law enforcement officers, if they believe the President of the United States has committed a crime, then they should shut up and they should cover up.”

Wittes justified Comey’s decision to leak confidential discussions with the President to the press:

So what exactly are you supposed to do if you’re the former FBI director who has this explosive information that is, by the way, not classified, and you have all the channels have failed? And that strikes me as the sort of quintessential example of a situation in which talking to the press, or in this case having a friend convey some information to a responsible reporter, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

Later in the segment, Wittes whined: “What’s extraordinary about the IG report is the volume that he turns up the criticism to without any regard to the extraordinary circumstances.” He warned that the finding by the DOJ watchdog would send this message to other department employees: “...be a stickler for the details of compliance with technical rules even if the house is burning down, even if you’re serving some awful larger objective in doing so. And ignore things like conscience.”

The unhinged rhetoric from Wittes is no surprise. In 2017, claims by Wittes that Comey was “disgusted” by having to shake hands with President Trump were quickly hyped by the media.

And yet, Morning Joe presents him as if he’s an objective legal analyst.

Here is a transcript of the August 30 segment:

6:27 AM ET

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JOE SCARBOROUGH: Let’s bring in right now NBC News and MSNBC law analyst and editor-in-chief of Lawfare, Ben Wittes. He’s out with a new piece diving into what the DOJ watchdog report really says. So Benjamin, this is – what a fascinating report, about 80-90% of it is Jack Webb, “Just the facts, ma’am.” And then the last 10% of the report reads like a talk radio script. The two don’t go together.

I guess though, a lot of people who supported Hillary Clinton might be chuckling this morning at the karma of it all. It sort of reminds you of when Comey himself said that Hillary was not going to be indicted and then went on his own talk radio rant for ten minutes and indicted her politically.

But this report – I mean, coming from an Inspector General, I was fairly shocked at how undisciplined he was with what our law professors would call dicta.

BEN WITTES: Yeah, it’s a deficient piece of work product in the last ten pages. The first 52 pages of it are actually quite informative and a pretty dry recitation of a whole lot of details about facts that we already knew, and the reason we knew them was of course that Jim Comey has been kind of nothing but up front about what he did.

He wrote seven memos detailing his interactions with President Trump. He – two of those memos he considered classified and left only in the FBI, but several of them he regarded as unclassified and he had copies at his house and sort of thought of as his own personal property and didn’t return when he left or was removed from the FBI. One of those he turned around and asked a friend – not me, by the way – a friend named Dan Richman – to give to, the substance of, to The New York Times and some others he gave to his lawyers. Those were the facts, those were always the facts, and the first 50-some-odd pages of the report simply lays out in great detail, in much greater data than most people will want to read.

And then the last ten pages are a kind of howl of rage and anger by the Inspector General that is really – you know, takes a remarkable position, in my opinion anyway, that it is inappropriate for the former director of the FBI to blow the whistle on the President’s efforts to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. And to me, the remarkable thing about this report is that the Inspector General of the Justice Department has effectively taken the position that if you’re a law enforcement officer and the President tries to shut down a valid investigation, your obligation is to shut up.

SCARBOROUGH: Yeah, you know, that’s actually what I was just going to ask you, if I was misreading the conclusion of this, you know, in an inaccurate way. Because that’s exactly what he says. It’s a reckless conclusion and suggests that law enforcement officers, if they believe the President of the United States has committed a crime, then they should shut up and they should cover up.

And it’s just a reminder, Benjamin, there never really was a determination on whether this was a crime or not. In fact, the Mueller Report suggests that they could draw no conclusion on whether the President obstructed justice or not, simply because he was President of the United States.

So the question is, why would the IG come to this conclusion, first of all, and secondly, if this was such a violation of the public trust why didn’t the Attorney General do what he knows would gain the President’s favor more than even writing him a $30,000 check this Christmas and not bring charges against James Comey?

WITTES: Yeah. So I mean, I think the conclusion on the point that you just mentioned is genuinely bewildering. The IG sort of chides Comey for kind of not going through channels in raising the concerns about, you know, an Oval Office meeting in which the President asked him to shut down the Michael Flynn investigation. And, you know, I sort of scratch my head and say exactly what channel is he supposed to have gone through? Is he supposed to have complained to the Attorney General? Well, the Attorney General was just – was recused. Is he supposed to complain to the Deputy Attorney General? The Deputy Attorney General had just arranged with the President to help fire him. Is he supposed to complain to the President? The President is the subject of the concern.

So what exactly are you supposed to do if you're the former FBI director who has this explosive information that is, by the way, not classified, and you have all the channels have failed? And that strikes me as the sort of quintessential example of a situation in which talking to the press, or in this case having a friend convey some information to a responsible reporter, is a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

And the IG’s position is, you know, to sort wag his finger and say, “This violates your employment agreement and it violates FBI policy.” And I guess to that I say like, you know, I – you know, in such a situation a foolish consistency with policy really would be the hobgoblin of small minds. And I’m actually a little bit surprised that that’s the position the IG takes.

SUSAN DEL PERCIO: Ben, Susan Del Percio here. We talk about the IG report and how it affects Comey on a big scale. But it also is setting precedent for DOJ and FBI policies. I mean, this is something where what happens when the next rank-and-file member has an issue, whether with it’s with their direct superior or one up and we see the politicization that we just did from this IG report, where do they go? I mean, how does this affect DOJ and the rank-and-file people?

WITTES: Right, so you know, I don’t fault the IG for noting technical violations of policy in the employment agreement here. I think, you know, in the dispute between the IG and Comey about who owns these memos, I think the IG probably has the better of the argument. And you know, it’s perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, for the IG to say, “No, actually, these were documents you created in your capacity as FBI director.” And to remind rank-and-file people that, in fact, when you’re working for the government and you create even unclassified work product, that really does belong to the government not to you to do what you want with.

What’s extraordinary about the IG report is the volume that he turns up the criticism to without any regard to the extraordinary circumstances. And he basically – it reads like he wanted to find that Comey had leaked classified information in a dangerous fashion. He couldn’t find that because, you know, he didn’t. And – but he gets angry that way anyway, as though it had happened. And so I think the message to current workforce members is, you know, be a stickler for the details of compliance with technical rules even if the house is burning down, even if you’re serving some awful larger objective in doing so. And ignore things like conscience.

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