Entering the political fray is hard. Especially in 2016, by many accounts one of the most polarizing and contentious election years in the US in a long time, it can be hard to say anything without drawing the wrath of someone. Even as I continue to defend the importance of such criticism and political activism, I can’t help but feel that it often attacks people who aren’t worthy targets. I think this may be the case for FBI Director James Comey, a man who went from drawing little media attention to being scorned and criticized by many on the left and right for a small act of transparency.
Comey has received flack for his October 28 decision to announce that newly found emails might be relevant to the Clinton email case. Comey had previously come on the political radar when he announced the result of the investigation into Clinton’s private email server. Then, as now, Comey was seen as the steward for one of the most controversial and political investigations in recent US history. Because of his decision, he is being blamed for Hillary Clinton’s loss and there are calls for Obama to fire him.
Even if we reached some consensus that Comey had made the wrong call in announcing the reopening of the Clinton email investigation, some attacks on him are unfair. Naturally after an electoral loss the losing party wants to pin-point what, or who, is to blame, but that doesn’t justify these exaggerations. People are calling him a partisan advocate for his decision to be transparent about a new development in a contentious investigation. People forget that it was Obama who selected him for the position because he had a stellar record for honesty and had previously challenged the Bush administration on domestic spying. People forget that any decision he made on what to do with this information, including saying nothing about it, could easily draw hatred from huge segments of the population.
I don’t think we can with surety say he even made the wrong call. In an election as contentious as this was one, everything gets politicized by one side or the other and that makes basic transparency a good policy. Comey faced heavy criticism before for simply announcing that Clinton was exonerated in the investigation. As new information became available in Clinton’s case, he had to face a tough decision. If Comey had chosen not to release the information and something scandalous had come of it, he would face accusations of collusion and corruption from the right. To Comey, simply announcing the existence of more emails to be investigated seemed like good middle ground.
It is ultimately quite fair to criticize Comey, because as an FBI director he is in a position that warrants public scrutiny. We just need to be careful before that criticism moves from reasonable critique to unfounded attack. This is a hard request to make after the election of one of the most highly divisive, insult-prone presidents in history. But this article is not about Trump. It is about sympathizing with a person who has served the public for years and has just recently been turned into a target for everyone’s scorn.
Finally, I think it’s worth asking ourselves where we want to invest our limited time, resources, and capital as citizens. It seems to me to be quite a waste to direct it towards attacking a man that served our previous president well. There is a lot of work to do in this country and a lot of things to change; none of that will come about by throwing blame at the FBI director.