By Seamus Bruner
Former FBI Director James Comey testified in a closed-door congressional hearing. The House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees sought answers regarding the origins of the FBI investigation of Trump-Russia. The key takeaways are that Comey provided few details that were not already known and appeared forgetful, replying ‘I don’t know,” “I can’t remember,” or “I don’t recall,” at least 236 times, according to the Judiciary committee.
Comey reportedly “went to bat” for former FBI agent Peter Strzok who was fired earlier this year for political bias. Comey’s testimony stands in stark contrast to a Department of Justice (DOJ) inspector general (IG) report from June. The June IG report revealed Comey “broke protocol” in his handling of the Clinton email investigation. The IG provided examples of widespread political bias and misconduct at the FBI under Comey’s tenure—including a lack of candor about media leaks.
President Donald Trump immediately blasted Comey on Twitter following the hearing: “James Comey just totally exposed his partisan stance by urging his fellow Democrats to take back the White House in 2020. In other words, he is and has been a Democrat. Comey had no right heading the FBI at any time, but especially after his mind exploded!”
“Democrats, please, please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left. This president and his Republican Party are counting on you to do exactly that. America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.”
Comey likes to talk about ethics and leadership. His recent book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” is the exact kind of roundabout self-promotion that disgusts his former colleagues. The insider-account book was based on FBI memos and experiences and Comey bagged more than $2 million in advance.
Indeed, Comey has worked very hard for many years to cultivate an image of being an upstanding, moral individual—a “boy scout” of a man who speaks truth to power.
That image is a sham.
We now know that under then-Director Comey’s direction, the FBI and the DOJ submitted a politically motivated dossier as probable cause to obtain a secret 2016 FISA surveillance warrant to spy on a presidential campaign. To this day, Comey denies knowing that the dossier was Clinton-funded and his weaponization of FBI spy tools like FISA against a presidential target appears unprecedented. However, precedents allowing such weaponization have been long in the making, thanks in large part to none other than James Comey and his mentor, Robert Mueller.
1. Comey’s net worth skyrocketed over 4,000 percent after working for a major spy contractor who paid him $6.1 million in a single year.
Comey conveniently neglects to mention that shortly after he challenged (read: changed) the legal status of domestic surveillance, he cashed in at the largest spy and defense contractor in history: Lockheed Martin.
As Deputy Attorney General, Comey’s net worth was $206,000 in 2003. Shortly before leaving the DOJ, Comey conveniently pushed for changes to the surveillance rules (resulting in a legal “loophole”) and then found a lofty position in 2005 at Lockheed Martin. Comey amassed well over $10 million before he returned to government service in 2013.
While cashing in with the private sector, Comey advised the same surveillance contractor that the FBI and other intelligence agencies pay billions to. In return, Lockheed Martin received a billion-dollar surveillance contract from Mueller’s FBI. Comey’s current net worth ballooned 4,250 percent since 2003, and this does not even account for his $3 million Connecticut home (which he sold in 2017, at a loss). In one year alone, Comey received $6.1 million from Lockheed Martin.
2. Comey favors spying on Americans and has advocated mass surveillance for many years.
In his 2003 Senate confirmation hearing, Comey lauded the controversial use of warrantless domestic surveillance. Comey has time and again praised intrusive legislation like the PATRIOT Act and FISA, which allow intelligence agencies to obtain, collect, and store private citizens’ data, ostensibly to protect against terrorists (2003, 2004, June 2005, July 2005, 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Part of Comey’s carefully crafted persona involves a 2004 incident where he (and pal Mueller) reportedly defied the Bush administration’s collection of private citizen communications. Comey recalls the confrontation (where he compelled President George W. Bush’s hospital-stricken Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to effectively end a post-9/11 spy program) as an example of him standing up to the surveillance state.
There is just one problem with the story: the Bush administration did not stop spying on private citizens and the Obama administration even expanded the Bush-era programs.
3. Mueller’s FBI granted Comey’s private-sector employer multiple hundred-million-dollar contracts, including a $1 billion contract that has been called a “boondoggle.”
While Comey worked in the private sector collecting his millions, then-FBI Director Mueller granted hundred-million-dollar contracts to Comey’s employer, Lockheed Martin. These contracts included a $425 million program called Sentinel and a controversial $1 billion biometric surveillance program called the Next Generation Identification (NGI) system, which Lockheed developed using facial recognition technologies. These were a significant step up from Lockheed’s previous major FBI biometric contract, the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS).
IBM protested the NGI award to Lockheed for undisclosed reasons and civil liberties groups have criticized it because the program compromises citizens’ privacy and is susceptible to a wide margin of error. Plagued by delays and cost overruns, numerous DOJ Inspector General audits criticized the Lockheed programs for their inestimable failures and the NGI program has been called “a $1 billion boondoggle.”
4. The section chief of the FBI’s surveillance unit warned Comey that warrantless spy programs are: (1.) a huge waste of time and money; (2.) ripe for potential abuses; and (3.) largely ineffective in catching terrorists. Comey ignored the warning and expanded the programs anyway.
In a 2018 interview, top-level FBI whistleblower Bassem Youssef emphasized that the expanded surveillance systems were vulnerable to severe abuse. He voiced these concerns to FBI Deputy Andrew McCabe in 2012, who attempted to silence criticisms of the programs and ignored Youssef’s warnings and recommendations. And when Youssef warned Comey in 2014 of potential system abuse, he was ignored yet again. Youssef also disclosed that only one terrorist plot was disrupted in the twelve years that his team conducted this surveillance.
5. Comey and Mueller have a long history of prosecutorial failures, missteps, and downright abuse.
In 2001, then-FBI Director Mueller and Comey aggressively targeted an innocent U.S. Army scientist, Steven Hatfill, for the anthrax scare. According to President Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, Comey was “absolutely certain” that Hatfill was guilty of the anthrax letter scare. The FBI then used “bumper locking,” a type of surveillance using an ever-present spy van, to monitor Hatfill. One time, the van ran over Hatfill’s foot, for which he was fined. The FBI also leaked information to the press in an apparent smear campaign. Hatfill was eventually exonerated on Aug. 26, 2003, and received a taxpayer-funded settlement of nearly $6 million. Comey and Mueller have numerous similar stories of prosecutorial failures and manipulation, which are detailed extensively in my recent book, “Compromised.”
Shortly after the hearing last week, Comey was back in front of the cameras. He gave an interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York City and admitted that he did not follow protocols during the FBI’s questioning of former Trump official Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Comey admitted sending FBI agents into the White House to question Flynn—which Comey acknowledged was something he “probably” would not have “gotten away with.” This bombshell comes amid reports that Comey’s FBI “entrapped” Flynn as agents did not tell Flynn his answers could have consequences and “urged” Flynn not to have a lawyer present so that he would feel “relaxed.”
The primary question that my book “Compromised” seeks to answer is “Why would top FBI and DOJ officials with so much to lose—like James Comey—risk everything to take out a duly elected president?” The answer to that question is simple: They had much to hide and interests to protect.
Seamus Bruner is the associate director of research at the Government Accountability Institute and author of “Compromised: How Money and Politics Drive FBI Corruption.”