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As news broke Thursday morning of the Justice Department Inspector General releasing a report hammering ex-FBI Director James Comey for violating DOJ policies, MSNBC brought on analysts who were known allies of the controversial former Bureau chief. It was during one of those interviews that talking points for the left-wing cable channel’s coverage were established for the rest of the day.

Just minutes after the IG report came out in the 10:00 a.m. ET hour on Thursday, MSNBC anchor Hallie Jackson turned to former Obama Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, who now serves as a justice and security analyst for the media outlet. Miller ranted: “I think that conclusion by the Inspector General that he did violate FBI rules, while probably technically true on its face, it just so misses the context of the time....it really feels to me like the IG has missed the mark.”

 

 

Jackson followed up by citing Miller’s earlier Twitter tirade against the DOJ watchdog: “You make the analogy on your Twitter....that this was like slapping somebody on the wrist for racing to save a burning village, right? Explain that. What do you mean by that?” Miller eagerly replied:

Yeah, well, what I said is it’s like giving – you know, faulting someone for speeding when they were coming to alert the village that a fire is coming. Look, the President of the United States was launching an assault on the Department of Justice....And yes, Jim Comey violated department rules at the time, but he did so as a whistleblower. And a whistleblower blowing on the whistle on some of the most disturbing conduct you can imagine by the President of the United States. So the idea that it’s important at all that he violated these department rules just seems to me very short-sighted and narrowly – and reflects a very narrowly scoped view of the world by the bureaucrats in the Inspector General’s office.

That sentiment, specifically the hyperbolic comparison of Comey to a firefighter speeding to the site of a blaze, was recycled throughout the rest of day by pundits and journalists alike on MSNBC.

Minutes after Miller called in, another Comey ally, former U.S. attorney Chuck Rosenburg, was on the phone with Jackson. He admitted to being “somewhat torn” over the IG report, but ultimately declared: “I think Matt Miller earlier today made a really important point, this was an extraordinary circumstance, and so we vest in the director of the FBI, as we vest in other senior leaders in government, the discretion and the ability to do extraordinary things in extraordinary times.”

Throughout the interview, Rosenburg repeatedly argued Comey was responding to an “emergency” and should be forgiven for not following proper procedure:

The President was interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation. Jim saw it as an extraordinary and deeply disturbing thing and took action to try and thwart it. That, at some level, Hallie, makes a lot of sense to me....What Jim was responding to was, in many ways, an emergency. And so, in an emergency, you need people to take emergency steps....desperate times require, on occasion, desperate measures.

In the 11:00 a.m. ET hour, talking to anchor Craig Melvin, Justice Department correspondent Julia Ainsley touted the comments from Miller and Rosenburg: “I think we’ve also heard, just on our air, from former employees, people who worked with James Comey, who said, you know, they’re conflicted....they say it was like charging someone with a speeding ticket on their way to put out a fire.”

As Ainsley appeared again in the 12:00 p.m. ET hour, anchor Andrea Mitchell proclaimed: “Julia, you spent the last few hours reading this whole report. Basically it clears Comey of wrongdoing.” Moments later, Ainsley downplayed the fired FBI Director’s leaks: “You and both know that confidential information or sensitive information is not classified and is passed in Washington everyday.” Mitchell wanted to remind viewers who the real villain was: “And also, he was facing a situation, just to explain, that the President of the United States was the antagonist here.”

In the 1:00 p.m. ET hour, MSNBC investigative reporter Tom Winter told anchor Ali Velshi that Comey “felt the need that the public should know about the information that was contained in these memos, memos that detailed his interactions with the President.” The correspondent added: “So I think Comey is probably looking for a little vindication here today.”

In the 2:00 p.m. ET hour, national security correspondent Ken Dilanian excused:

Comey may have committed a technical violation, but that’s why critics are likening this to giving a speeding ticket to a fireman on the way to a blaze. This Inspector General report really says almost nothing about the overall context in which Comey did this, which was he thought the President had obstructed justice, he believed the public needed to know this, and in fact, his actions caused a special counsel to be appointed.

Fill-in anchor Ayman Mohyeldin responded: “Yeah, one could make the argument that it kind of falls under the umbrella of whistleblowing on what he thought might have been wrongdoings by the President.”  

The narrative continued into the evening hours on MSNBC, with Ainsley appearing on Thursday’s Hardball to repeat the claim that “it’s like punishing someone for speeding on their way to put out a fire.”

On Friday, Morning Joe welcomed Comey friend Benjamin Wittes on the program to blast the IG for supposedly telling DOJ employees to “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.”

All it takes is a tweet or comment from a former Obama flack to write MSNBC’s “news” coverage.

Here is a transcript of the August 29 interviews with Miller and Rosenburg:

10:40 AM ET

HALLIE JACKSON: We are following breaking news out of Washington on that report that the Department of Justice Inspector General has just released about what, 25-30 minutes ago, looking into former FBI Director James Comey and how he handled several memos containing sensitive information. I want to bring in Matt Miller, MSNBC justice and security analyst, who’s joining us on the phone. Matt, as our Julia Ainsley, who covers the Justice Department, explained to us earlier, this investigation, this report finds that Comey violated DOJ policies but declined to prosecute him. What’s your takeaway here?

MATTHEW MILLER: I think, look, obviously they declined to prosecute him because there was no violation of law. It’s not a violation to violate DOJ or FBI policies. It may be against the rules of the department, but that’s very different from being a criminal act. I think that conclusion by the Inspector General that he did violate FBI rules, while probably technically true on its face, it just so misses the context of the time. It’s so devoid of the context of what happened and what Comey was responding to, it really feels to me like the IG has missed the mark.

I mean, you have to go back and remember when Comey took this step, you know, the President of the United States had asked him to back off an investigation into the National Security Advisor. He asked him for loyalty. When Comey didn’t do any of those things, the President fired him and then went on television and said that he fired him to, you know, help end the Russia investigation. The idea that Comey was supposed to, I don’t know, take this up with the Inspector General rather than alert the American public and try to get a special counsel appointed seems to me like a complete miss of any real context of what was happening in the real world by the Inspector General.

JACKSON: You make the analogy on your Twitter, I know you were tweeting – I hope you’re not driving as you were looking through all of this – that this was like slapping somebody on the wrist for racing to save a burning village, right? Explain that. What do you mean by that?

MILLER: Yeah, well, what I said is it’s like giving – you know, faulting someone for speeding when they were coming to alert the village that a fire is coming. Look, the President of the United States was launching an assault on the Department of Justice, he was trying to turn the Department of Justice into his independent law enforcement arm and kill an investigation into his campaign, an investigation that essentially involved himself. And yes, Jim Comey violated department rules at the time, but he did so as a whistleblower. And a whistleblower blowing on the whistle on some of the most disturbing conduct you can imagine by the President of the United States. So the idea that it’s important at all that he violated these department rules just seems to me very short-sighted and narrowly – and reflects a very narrowly scoped view of the world by the bureaucrats in the Inspector General’s office.

JACKSON: Matt Miller, MSNBC justice and security analyst, with a bit of a different take from some folks we’ve heard from earlier on the show. Matt, thank you for jumping on the phone, I appreciate that.

(...)

10:46 AM ET

JACKSON: And I want to bring in on the phone somebody who knows a lot about this, Chuck Rosenburg, MSNBC contributor and former U.S. Attorney and senior FBI official. Chuck, thank you for hopping on the line with us. And your perspective is important here. What is your takeaway from what you have heard, and I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read, but seen about this report so far?

CHUCK ROSENBURG: You know, I’m somewhat torn. On the one hand, there are a set of rules. The rules are clear and they apply to everybody. On the other hand, I think Matt Miller earlier today made a really important point, this was an extraordinary circumstance, and so we vest in the director of the FBI, as we vest in other senior leaders in government, the discretion and the ability to do extraordinary things in extraordinary times.

So to tell you that I have fully resolved this in my own mind would be a lie. On the other hand, I understand why Jim did what he did when he did it. That makes sense to me. The President was interfering with an ongoing criminal investigation. Jim saw it as an extraordinary and deeply disturbing thing and took action to try and thwart it. That, at some level, Hallie, makes a lot of sense to me.

On the other hand, I abided by the rules. Everyone does. Everyone should. And so, I am conflicted to tell you the truth.

JACKSON: I want to quote you here from the report that, “The Director,” in the words of the Inspector General, “failed to live up to his responsibility,” and says that “he set a dangerous example for some 35,000 FBI employees currently working.” Is that a fair assessment in your view?

ROSENBURG: No, I think it’s not. I think it’s a little hyperbolic, and I think it lacks, as Matt Miller said, some context. What Jim was responding to was, in many ways, an emergency. And so, in an emergency, you need people to take emergency steps. Might he have done it differently if he had more time to consider and reflect? Perhaps. But we needed a special counsel investigation and what Jim did helped to initiate one.

JACKSON: You talked about, Chuck –

ROSENBURG: Look, like I said earlier, Hallie, I get the rules, I abided by them scrupulously I think and hope. But you know, desperate times require, on occasion, desperate measures.

JACKSON: Chuck, sit tight for one second.

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