The author suggests that she may bear some responsibility for recent events.
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Leave aside, for a moment, the question of whether Comey acted rightly or wrongly, a matter we addressed in depth on Saturday and on which we think his moves are not above criticism.
But there’s an elephant in the room alongside all these DOJ officials who are clucking about the FBI director’s having gone rogue: Attorney General Lynch, having been consulted ahead of time, let him do it.
Lynch could have ordered Comey not to send the letter. She declined to do that, and instead acted in a manner that minimized her own responsibility, as the head of the Justice Department, for what Comey did.
This is not the way the matter is playing in the press. Many news stories over the weekend, citing anonymous Justice Department sources, suggested that Comey acted contrary to Justice Department wishes. The idea is that the DOJ was somehow helpless to prevent an out-of-control investigator from meddling in a presidential campaign with actions undertaken either to gratify Comey’s ego and arrogate power and responsibility to himself, or to help Donald Trump—or because Comey just couldn’t help himself.
But that’s not how the Justice Department works, and that’s not what happened here. If you think what Comey did was beyond the pale, Lynch does not get to escape accountability for the action.
The wishes and preferences of the attorney general and deputy attorney general, such as they were, were, in fact, conveyed in a tepid, responsibility-eschewing way. The New York Times reports that “the Justice Department strongly discouraged [sending the letter to Congress] and told [Comey] that he would be breaking with longstanding policy.” It then adds that “Senior Justice Department officials did not move to stop him from sending the letter,” but “did everything short of it.”
Well, not everything, it turns out. Lynch, and her deputy, Sally Yates, did not demand that Comey hold off on sending the letter until they could make a decision for the Department about it. They did not pick up the phone or insist on a meeting to discuss the issue or even to express their views personally to Comey. “There was no direct confrontation between Lynch or Yates and Comey,” reports CNN. “Instead, the disagreements were conveyed to Comey by Justice Department staff, who advised the FBI chief his letter would be against department policy to not comment on investigations close to an election.”