‘Fiddling While Rome Burns’: Experts Criticize OIG Report, Defend James Comey

The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General on Thursday released a scathing report rebuking former FBI Director James Comey for violating bureau policies in handling the memos he wrote detailing encounters with President Donald Trump. While the 80-page report classified Comey’s conduct as setting a “dangerous example for the over 35,000 current FBI employees,” the report concluded that Comey’s violations did not warrant prosecution. Following its release, many government and legal experts criticized the strongly-worded report for failing to contextualize Comey’s actions–which did not include disseminating classified information–in light of the extraordinary circumstances he faced.

Matthew Miller, MSNBC Justice & Security Analyst and former Director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice during the Obama Administration, called the IG’s inquiry “perhaps the stupidest investigation the IG has ever done and one of its dumber conclusions.”

“Talk about fiddling while Rome burns,” he added. Miller did not stop there.

“Asinine. Comey did what he did because the president was actively trying to dismantle DOJ’s normal way of operating. The AG and the DAG were both complicit, so Comey had nowhere else to take his concerns. It must be nice to live in the context-free world inhabited by the IG,” Miller wrote.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, a Washington Post columnist who currently teaches Constitutional Law and National Security Law at UCLA School of Law, called Miller’s statement “dead on,” saying that while the IG’s “did his job,” the “pontificating conclusion” was a bit much.

“Ok, so Comey failed to dot his t’s and cross his i’s on the handling of the memos. [The IG] did his job. But the pontificating conclusion and civics lesson on the rule of law are a little hard to take. There is a context here. Imagine if the memos had stayed hidden from view,” Litman commented.

“Yes, Comey will be remembered for his arrogance in deciding when to bend rules, but when a Pres demands your loyalty and asks you to drop a criminal investigation, we’re in a different world. [The IG] can still draw his bureaucratic conclusions; it’s we who need to keep them in context,” he added.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor and current CNN legal analyst, had a more succinct take on the report, opining that history might eventually vindicate Comey.

“The bottom line from the DOJ IG report is that Comey did not follow DOJ guidelines but also did not disseminate classified material or commit another crime. The IG faults Comey for not following DOJ policy. I’m not sure history will do so,” Mariotti said.

Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor, current MSNBC contributor and professor at the University of Alabama Law School, had a similar take on Comey’s actions as detailed in the report.

“Had Comey not gone public (we can, and the IG has criticized the way he did it, but leave that aside for a minute) the country might not have learned what Trump was about. Without the scrutiny of the press, the public & the independent counsel, Trump might have done much more,” she wrote.

National Security attorney Bradley P. Moss, who predicted the IG’s central conclusion’s nearly two years ago, provided a more caustic view of the matter.

“Seriously, this is the scathing report conservatives were hyping against Comey? What a joke. You can say he breached his employment contract. I said that ages ago. But there were no criminal violations and, as [Kellyanne Conway] reminded us, it doesn’t matter unless there are cuffs,” he wrote.

Despite the widespread condemnation of the IG’s conclusions, not every legal expert believed Comey should be absolved for violating DOJ and FBI policies.

Attorney Ross Garber, a CNN legal analyst who teaches Political Investigations and Impeachment at Tulane Law School, said that Comey should not be treated a “whistleblower” in failing to abide by departmental standards, calling such an assessment “dead wrong.”

“As [the IG] made clear, Comey could have used approved channels to report his concerns. It undermines the rule of law and our institutions of government when DOJ officials act improperly,” Garber reasoned.

Several Republican lawmakers also voiced their opinions of the former FBI director. Reps. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) all teed up the IG’s words to take shots at Comey.

[image via Alex Wong and Getty Images]

Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.

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