There is no other way to put it: Former FBI Director James Comey tragically botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton, no doubt playing a part in her losing and Donald Trump’s being elected.
But it is also true that Comey may be a linchpin in undoing the mistake he made.
Trump was completely out of bounds when he fired Comey — the man who was leading an investigation into connections between Russia and the Trump campaign — and then bragged to the Russians about the firing.
Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump asked Comey “to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.”
“‘I hope you can let this go,’ the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.”
The question of whether Trump’s ask, Comey’s continuance and Trump’s subsequent firing of Comey constitutes obstruction of justice looms large.
Now Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate next Thursday to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.”
This is shaping up to be a high-drama media event.
But the clarity of good vs. evil isn’t as clear-cut here as I would like it to be.
To me it registers more as a matter of degrees: A good man exposed for colossal mismanagement versus a wretched man craning toward monstrosity.
You see, Comey is simultaneously hero and villain, and presumably right where he likes to be: in the spotlight.
In an extensive report on Comey in April, The Times painted a picture of a man who sought desperately not to appear political but who was not immune to the lure of self-promotion and publicity.
As The Times put it:
“For Mr. Comey, keeping the F.B.I. out of politics is such a preoccupation that he once said he would never play basketball with President Barack Obama because of the appearance of being chummy with the man who appointed him.
“But in the final months of the presidential campaign, the leader of the nation’s pre-eminent law enforcement agency shaped the contours, if not the outcome, of the presidential race by his handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations.”
The Times also added that Comey made his decision to treat the handling of the Clinton and Trump-related investigations during the campaign in such vastly different ways “with the supreme self-confidence of a former prosecutor who, in a distinguished career, has cultivated a reputation for what supporters see as fierce independence, and detractors view as media-savvy arrogance.”
A Vanity Fair profile of Comey went further:
“One observer cites Comey’s willingness to say, ‘I know what’s right,’ even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, ‘There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work.’”
I don’t doubt the integrity and intent of this modern-day Achilles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a heel.
It is hard to know exactly how to consider Comey.
Are the beans he may spill about Trump to be considered absolution for the sins he committed concerning Clinton’s email?
Must we simply choose the lesser of two evils in an epic battle: a man of integrity who made a huge error in judgment over a man who lacks integrity and whose judgments are near absolute in their erroneousness?
Is it fair to believe sincerely that Comey should indeed have been fired, just not at this time, in this way, for this reason? Is it fair and right to harbor some hostility toward Comey while still cheering his coming confrontation with Trump?
No matter which way I think about it, I’m torn.
And yet, I wait with the greatest of anticipation for Comey’s testimony.
Will he confirm the existence of contemporaneously produced memos by him that reportedly document his unease with his interactions with a newly elected Trump?
If so, how many memos are there and what do they say?
Will he directly contradict the story that the White House, including Trump, has told? Will this be a clash of titans or an arm wrestle of egos?
Whether or not there is a case against Trump for obstruction of justice is likely to hinge in large part on what Comey says and what, if any, proof he can produce.
Comey is one of the people who damned us to the reign of Trump, and Comey may be one of the only people who can save us from it.
Charles M. Blow is a columnist with The New York Times.