The Tales of Parson Comey

Apparently the former FBI chief can see into other men’s souls.

May 21, 2019
By William McGurn

When in 1800 Parson Weems published “A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington, ” this and later editions would become the source of treasured chestnuts such as the tale of the 6-year old George killing his father’s cherry tree or the older Gen. Washington kneeling in the snow to pray at Valley Forge.

With its saccharine moralizing and portrait of larger-than-life integrity, it isn’t unlike today’s tales about former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey. Except that the glowing picture of Parson Comey as a paragon of virtue is a self-portrait.

Like the itinerant preachers who once brought the Gospel to the vast American countryside, Parson Comey periodically rides the circuit. In his case, this means appearing on CNN, penning an op-ed for the New York Times, or posting his pensées on Twitter , where he preaches the moral turpitude of anyone who may question, say, using a dossier he himself characterized as “salacious and unverified” to get a warrant to spy on an innocent American. But as with Parson Weems before him, Parson Comey’s tales aren’t holding up under the light.

Parson Weems, for example, gave us Washington telling his father, “I cannot tell a lie . . . I did cut it with my hatchet.” In the Parson Comey version, the then-FBI director tells the president “I don’t leak, I don’t do weasel moves”—only later to leak to the Times FBI memos detailing private conversations with the president. To avoid leaving his fingerprints, Mr. I Cannot Tell a Lie leaked via a law-professor friend.

Or what about the parson’s tall tale about the FBI agents who’d interviewed national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House? When Bret Baier of Fox News asked him if he’d told Congress that the two agents who’d interviewed Mr. Flynn “didn’t believe [he] was lying intentionally,” he insisted he hadn’t said it.

But when the House Intelligence Committee got the redaction lifted from their report on Russia, there it was on page 54: Parson Comey testifying that the FBI agents saw “nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

We now know too that Parson Comey briefed Mr. Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, about the Steele dossier. Yet though this exemplar of truth and transparency told the president-elect about the accusations involving Russian prostitutes, he withheld information that the FBI had used the unverified dossier to get a warrant on a former member of Team Trump because it believed the campaign was conspiring with Russians to steal the election. This week former FBI counsel James Baker said in a Yahoo News podcast that he worried that when Director Comey was assuring Mr. Trump he wasn’t the subject of an investigation, it wasn’t quite true.

Alas, the parson hasn’t stopped trading on his former job to advance unsupported insinuations. When CNN’s Anderson Cooper recently brought up the Russian prostitutes again and asked if it is possible the Russians have leverage over President Trump, he replied, “Yes.”

In wake of the exhaustive FBI/Mueller investigation, the honest answer would be: “It’s possible. But the FBI relies on evidence. And in more than two years of investigations, no one’s found any.”

For the past few years the auto-hagiography of Parson Comey has been uncritically received because it has been thought useful to the anti-Trump cause. In its review of his book, for example, the Times indulged in a riot of Weemsian excess: “nonpartisan and well-intentioned”; “boy-scout polite”; “fierce, go-it-alone independence”; “straight-arrow bureaucrat”; “apostle of order and the rule of law”; and so on.

Yet now there’s a new team in the parsonage, and they are taking an objective look at what happened at the FBI during the Comey years. The question is whether the mistakes were simply a result of sloppiness and overzealousness or a deliberate abuse of power.

This may explain why Parson Comey has of late been casting more first stones than usual. In recent days he’s informed former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that President Trump has “eaten” his soul, sermonized that Attorney General William Barr lacks the character needed to run “an organization based on truth,” and assured America that the president had “corrupt intent” when he asked the White House counsel to sack Robert Mueller. Apparently the former FBI director’s abilities include not only upholding the law and fighting off foreign foes but seeing into other men’s souls.

Yet, say this for Jim Comey: The parson knows his congregation. And he feeds it from Mount Self-Righteous, with a mix of Democratic talking points, proclamations about the wickedness of anyone with a different point of view, and the occasional lofty quotation from Reinhold Niebuhr.Ralph Waldo Emerson never met Parson Comey, but plainly he was well-acquainted with the type: “The louder he spoke of his honor,” Emerson wrote, “the faster we counted our spoons.”

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