Trump vs. the Intelligence Community, Part Two

In Part One, I outlined my concerns about how Donald Trump's war on the intelligence community had led to what is effectively dueling coups between the Trump administration and the national security bureaucrats.

I noted: "The question, to which we don't have a definitive answer, is whether the national security bureaucracy is fighting for us (and the preservation of the nation's democratic institutions) or for themselves."

Within that framework, I want to talk about James Comey's testimony yesterday.

His opening statement concluded with a vociferous defense of the FBI:
[A]lthough the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple. And I am so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I'm so sorry that the American people were told them.

I worked every day at the FBI to help make that great organization better, and I say help, because I did nothing alone at the FBI. There no indispensable people at the FBI. The organization's great strength is that its values and abilities run deep and wide. The FBI will be fine without me. The FBI's mission will be relentlessly pursued by its people, and that mission is to protect the American people and uphold the constitution of the United States. I will deeply miss being part of that mission, but this organization and its mission will go on long beyond me and long beyond any particular administration.

I have a message before I close for my former colleagues of the FBI but first I want the American people to know this truth. The FBI is honest. The FBI is strong. And the FBI is and always will be independent. And now to my former colleagues, if I may. I am so sorry that I didn't get the chance to say goodbye to you properly. It was the nor of my life to serve beside you, to be part of the FBI family, and I will miss it for the rest of my life. Thank you for standing watch. Thank you for doing so much good for this country. Do that good as long as ever you can.
Consider that statement alongside the passage from a Washington Post story in May I've previously highlighted: "One intelligence official who works on Russian espionage matters said they were more determined than ever to pursue such cases. Another said Comey's firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won't soon be forgotten. Trump had 'essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,' one official said. 'I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.'"

Yesterday, one thing that became abundantly clear during Comey's testimony is that he has been diligently laying the groundwork to hold Trump accountable—ostensibly for his attempts to obstruct justice, although that was perhaps not as compelling a motivation as we are inclined to believe. Or at least not as compelling as is seeking vengeance on a president who has undermined the FBI.

Comey was very straightforward about his strategy, flatly admitting during his testimony: "The president tweeted on Friday after I got fired that I better hope there's not tapes. I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might a tape. My judgment was, I need to get that out into the public square. I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons. I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. I asked a close friend to do it."

It's rather extraordinary, despite the fact it hasn't gotten much mention, that Comey publicly disclosed his memos with the explicit objective of triggering the appointment of a special counsel.

There's nothing necessarily unethical about that, but it is revealing of a guy who had a pretty specific agenda, and a solid game plan for how to execute it.

Much of the commentary around Comey's testimony yesterday included observations about his integrity. That was a ubiquitous word: Integrity.

Personally, what I saw was not so much integrity but strategy. Specifically a strategy to enact scorching revenge. I don't believe Comey was dishonest in any way, but I wouldn't exactly call it integrity, either.

At the moment, it's enticingly easy to ignore the possibility that Comey is primarily motivated by payback, not patriotism; to think it doesn't matter, because his actions on their face seem to align with the general objective of holding Trump accountable.

But it matters, especially in the long-term. It is critically important for us to scrutinize and understand exactly what's happening here, because it will have massive implications if indeed Trump is removed and Mike Pence installed in his place. If the FBI, and the larger intelligence community, is primarily driven (at least right now) by a vendetta against Trump, who has been waging war on the intelligence community, then we have no reason to expect that they won't defer to Pence, as long as he is smart enough not to be the antagonist Trump has been. (And he is.)

In that context, we must consider what Robert Sandy detailed in a Twitter thread: "While, Comey (mostly) acquitted himself well in his testimony today, I was both shocked and disillusioned by the time it concluded. ...I was actually gobsmacked by Comey's most—only—stunning revelation. Comey testified that up until the day he was fired there had not been a criminal investigation initiated against Trump by the FBI. This, for me, was truly stunning. Not the least of which is that even if you delete the #TrumpRussia story there still exists the REST. The list of visible acts of corruption with a capital C is both long and alarming. ...If anyone is aware of the array of misdeeds by Donald Trump at this point it's Comey."

Yet there was no criminal investigation of Trump. Of any kind. And when, during questioning yesterday, Senator Roy Blunt asked Comey, "If the president hadn't terminated your service, would you still be, in your opinion, the director of the FBI today?" Comey's complete answer was, "Yes, sir."

Which certainly could reflect a belief that he was best positioned as FBI Director to defend our democratic institutions. But it could also indicate that Comey doesn't believe any of Trump's corruption was as detestable to him as Trump's repeated insults to the FBI and broader intelligence community.

And that possibility does not bode well for us, moving forward, irrespective of the outcome.

This observation, of course, is not to suggest that Comey's testimony was not useful and necessary. It was. It is merely to contextualize it so that we all understand exactly where we really stand.

You'll often hear that Comey (and bureaucrats in similar positions) are not political. It's more accurate to say they are not partisan. Comey is as shrewd a political operator as anyone else in Washington. It's just that his political interests are centered within the politics of the FBI.

And those politics are often in opposition to ours.

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