‘A Hill Worth Dying On’
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“I wanted to know, was she going to authorize us to confirm we had an investigation? And she said, yes, but don’t call it that, call it a matter. And I said, why would I do that? And she said, just call it a matter. And, again, you look back in hindsight, you think should I have resisted harder? I just said, all right, it isn’t worth — this isn’t a hill worth dying on.”
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Those are the words that stick in our mind from Director Comey’s testimony today before the Senate. The former top G-man was speaking about how Attorney General Lynch had tried to get him to put the gloss on the investigation of Secretary of State Clinton. Mr. Comey sensed his boss was wrong but decided not to fight her on the matter.
So on what hill is Mr. Comey prepared to make a stand? It’s impossible to tell from his testimony today. He was all over the map. He seemed shocked when President Trump said he hoped he could let go of General Flynn investigation go, but then he merely wrote a memo to the file. He didn’t want to die on that hill either, it seems, at least not until he was fired.
Yet it strikes us that there is a hill worth dying on here — and that is the Everest of democracy. By our lights, it is President Trump who holds the high ridge of the Constitution. The thing to remember about the Russian question is that Mr. Trump took it to the people in an election. He campaigned for a mandate to reach out to Moscow, and the voters gave him one.
Once Mr. Trump was president, he had every right to ask — or even instruct — the director of the FBI to go easy on any one of the president’s operatives pursuing that policy, including General Flynn. It is no doubt true that Mr. Trump has no right to shut down an investigation for corrupt reasons, a point noted by two op-ed contributors to the New York Times.
Yet as near as we can tell from Mr. Comey’s testimony, the President, after expressing his hopes, never impeded any investigation of General Flynn or anyone else. And if he had, we’ve noted before, the right place to take the case would have been to the House of Representatives, to which was granted the sole power of impeachment.
By all accounts, it seems that Mr. Trump himself was not the target of the investigation. It was a counter-intelligence matter. But there is no reason at all to suppose that Mr. Comey is more patriotic than Mr. Trump, who is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. In the event, it wasn’t Mr. Comey who put paid to General Flynn’s career.
That was Mr. Trump himself, because — as he told a press conference in February — the general “didn’t tell the vice president of the United States the facts. And then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.” Mr. Trump was signaling, early in his administration, the he would insist on honesty, a point that has gained scant appreciation in the Democratic press.
The President, in short, is the one who has acted more forthrightly. By Mr. Comey’s own account, the President has the right to fire an FBI director “for any reason, or no reason at all.” Mr. Comey himself wrote that in a letter to his own staff after he was fired. At the time he claimed he was “not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed.”
It was an admirable position, but Mr. Comey didn’t stick to it. At one point he seemed to suggest that the reason Congress established a 10-year term for the FBI director is so that he is not looking over his shoulder. He talked about the blindfold of Justice. Yet Mr. Comey had already emerged as the most political FBI director in history, having concluded long ago that honestly characterizing his investigation of Mrs. Clinton wasn’t a hill worth his risking his career.