James Comey: Democrat by birth, Republican by trade, thorn in the side of both

The imposing FBI director has drawn both praise and scorn from both major parties. But his biggest test – the investigation of Trump’s alleged ties to Russia – lies ahead

By Tom McCarthy / The Guardian / Saturday 25 March 2017 03.00 EDT

 

It took James Comey less than one minute to reveal his big news at a congressional hearing this week. The imposing FBI director, a former federal prosecutor who stands 6 feet 8 inches tall, began his opening statement by thanking the House intelligence committee for inviting him.

Then he announced that the FBI was eight months into an investigation of some of the president’s closest associates, if not the president himself, for possible cooperation with Russia during last year’s election.

“That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey said, deadpan. “As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”

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In an instant, Comey regained, for those whose dearest desire is the downfall of Donald J Trump, the white knight status that has clung to him periodically throughout his career, except when it has fallen away. As major revelations about ties between Trump associates and Moscow continue to emerge, Comey’s inquiry means that a relatively nonpartisan record of those ties is being methodically assembled, and that any criminality could be prosecuted. Trump and his associates have denied any wrongdoing.

It further means that Trump is in a hard corner. In January, the president publicly asked Comey, who is four years into a 10-year term, to stay on as FBI director. For Trump, there seemed little motivation to shove aside a well-regarded longtime Republican whose bureau was decidedly favorable territory for Trump.

In any case, such a request would have been exceedingly rare, and sure to draw accusations of abuse of power by the new president. Now, with the FBIinvestigation having been made public, the political risks for Trump of sacking Comey are exponentially greater.

To say there are a lot of progressive hopes riding on James Comey is an understatement. It’s bracingly ironic, then, that for a lot of Democrats, including Hillary and Bill Clinton, Comey is to blame for making Trump president in the first place.

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Who is James Comey? He’s a Methodist convert of Irish descent from New Jersey who made his name cracking down on Virginia gun homicides and prosecuting international terrorism suspects.

His supposed aversion to the spotlight would seem to be belied by his constant reappearan