Comey seemed to have pulled off the rarest of feats in politics: He pissed off everybody. Former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom said on Fox News that Comey’s decision was “nonsensical,” adding: “It’s not Comey’s right to sully that reputation [of the FBI].”
“The way the letter was written was incredibly vague and careless,” a Democratic operative tells Newsweek. “That was a massive hand grenade thrown into the middle of an election that was 11 days away.” In addition to energizing Trump supporters, Comey’s decision to publicize a tiny advance in a “completed” investigation angered Democrats because it came while Comey was keeping silent about reports of Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by members of the Trump campaign. In fact, CNBC reported that Comey had declined to sign an October 7 joint statement from the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that accused the Russian government of tampering with the U.S. election, because he thought it was too close to when people would cast their votes.
Two days before the election, Comey told lawmakers the bureau had reviewed the new emails and found no reason to change its decision that Clinton should not face charges—but that was like waving a white paper napkin to stop a tornado. Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald wrote, “America has just witnessed one of the most—if not the most—egregious abuses of power in the service of one man’s ego in its history.” When Clinton lost to Donald Trump, the fury swelled. She blamed the FBI director for contributing to her defeat and The Wall Street Journal called for his resignation.
Comey’s defenders insist that he did nothing wrong and that he had a responsibility to update Congress after telling it the Clinton probe was completed, but the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General is reviewing how Comey handled the investigation. Michael Bromwich, who as inspector general under President Bill Clinton investigated then–FBI Director Louis Freeh, tells Newsweek, “I think there were lots of legitimate questions about his conduct, why he did it, whether in fact, as it appeared, his conduct violated longstanding Justice Department policies.” Such inquiries typically involve interviewing people and reviewing electronic communications and could last a year or longer, according to Bromwich. If the office finds evidence of misconduct, the attorney general could impose sanctions on Comey, including suspension or termination.