January 19, 2020

King Comey is rigging the election

I was afraid the October surprise was going to be an act of terrorism on U.S. soil. I thought that ISIS, like Putin, calculated that hothead Trump would better serve its interests than cucumber Clinton. I imagined that her response to an attack would be more like George W. Bush’s bullhorn words (“I can hear you! … And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”), and Trump’s more like Gen. Curtis LeMay’s (“[W]e’re going to bomb them back to the Stone Age”). At a moment like that, fury can trump steely; rage, I feared, would carry him to the White House.

What I didn’t expect was that the bombshell would be dropped by the director of the FBI. Nor did I appreciate how helpless that would make me feel.

Shockingly close to Election Day, James Comey’s intervention “>story to turn up a revolting 11-year old outtake reel of Trump and Billy Bush — tape which might well have been tossed long ago. All those counterfactuals are plausible, but they didn’t turn out that way, and American history is now hanging in the balance.

Good luck and bad luck are more important to the course of human events than it’s comfortable to acknowledge. To be sure, this presidential campaign hasn’t been propelled solely by chance. Trump’s sliming of Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan wasn’t just a lucky break for Clinton. It was inevitable that his real nature would have been disclosed. If it hadn’t been the Khans, there would still have been his slander of John McCain, his mocking of a disabled reporter, his smear of Judge Gonzalo Curiel, his refusal to say he’ll accept the voting outcome if he loses the election. These weren’t fortuitous flukes. They are part of a pattern; they reveal a contemptible flaw in his character.

Comey’s original sin was promising to turn over the FBI’s investigative materials to Congress, despite Congress’ having no oversight role in individual criminal investigations. His gobsmacking announcement gave Trump the finale of his “Lock her up!” narrative, and he’s riding it to tightening polls.

Whether he means to or not, King Comey is rigging the election. Apparently the attorney general told him it was a terrible idea. Why did he do it anyway? Pure partisanship? I don’t think so. My guess is that Comey knew leaks were coming from some Clinton antagonists in the Bureau who were pissed at his decision not to prosecute, and whose revenge might be his post-election impeachment on trumped-up charges.

Maybe Comey jumped the shark because, trapped between his inexplicable commitment to Republican committee chairmen and his own rebellious agents, he felt, well, helpless. If that’s true, all I can say is, welcome to the club, Mr. Director.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.