In his new book A Higher Loyalty, former FBI Director James Comey admits what most observers had inferred: that the overwhelming conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton was going to win on Election Day played a role in his fateful decision to refocus the campaign on the email matter in late October.
“It is entirely possible,” Comey writes, “that because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”
This is, obviously, a mistake that a lot of people made. Many polling-based models of the election showed Clinton with an overwhelming — 90 percent or greater — chance of winning. The main exception was Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, which showed her with “only” a 65 percent chance of winning.
And even some of us who weighed the debate and decided Silver’s statistical modeling was superior talked ourselves into the idea that he was wrong anyway due to Barack Obama’s high approval rating.
Regardless, this is obviously not appropriate criteria for an FBI director to be using when making crucial decisions.
And it points to one of the central ironies of Trump’s decision to fire Comey — the cover story that he was dismissed because of his handling of the email investigation actually makes a great deal of sense. It would have been perfectly reasonable, given the circumstances, for the president to thank Comey for his years of distinguished service in a variety of capacities but judge that the country and the FBI would both be better served by a new leader who wasn’t going to be caught up in the inevitable endless arguments about the 2016 election. There’s a good reason the Republican National Committee is going back to the cover story as the centerpiece of its Lyin’ Comey rebuttal initiative.
The problem is that, as Trump admitted to Lester Holt, this isn’t actually the reason he fired Comey.