FBI Director James Comey is an institution man. So it must be especially painful to him that he is single-handedly undermining faith not only in the institution he leads, but in the propriety of a presidential election.
Comey has been balancing those interests for months. In July, when he held a news conference to announce the conclusion of the bureau’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, he opted to buttress the FBI’s reputation for probity at the expense of a presidential candidate. His news conference was unusual and Comey’s stark criticism of Clinton’s conduct was remarkably so.
Republican talk of “criminal” Hillary and her future in “prison” became commonplace.
The Republican appetite for vengeance seems to have launched Comey on his unprecedented path. His July news conference was intended to deflate rage, defang attacks and present the FBI’s behavior as fully justified.
The tactic failed.
When new emails surfaced in an unrelated investigation, it’s not hard to imagine Comey’s dismay. Most of the emails probably have no relevance to Clinton, and the rest are no more likely to suggest criminal conduct than the thousands the FBI has already reviewed.
But Republicans are irate, claiming that the fix was in for Clinton at the FBI.
Comey is now mistrusted and despised on all sides. The fairness of the election is broadly in doubt.