The political elite remain puzzled—and in agony—over how Donald Trump could still be in the race. A bullying debater! A purveyor of mistruths! A would-be autocrat! How has our country come to this?
The answer sat staring at them on a videolink this Wednesday, in the smug countenance of James Comey.
This obvious truth will be missed by the left and the media, which continue to comfort themselves with the fiction that Mr. Trump won in 2016 by preying on the weak and ill-informed. The opposite is true. The businessman was propelled to office on the fury of those who had seen too much. They’d watched for decades as an insulated elected class—Democrat and Republican alike—broke promises, failed to solve problems, and blamed it on the system.
These voters had watched the swamp take over—IRS targeters, self-righteous prosecutors, zealous regulators—armed with stunning powers and a mentality that they were entitled to make the rules, to tell the little people what was best for them. Voters fumed over the double standard. Hillary Clinton deleted government emails with abandon, while a 77-year-old Navy veteran went to prison for building a pond in contravention of “navigable water” rules.
Mr. Comey personifies what enrages those Americans. His testimony this week was a vivid reminder that the election won’t hinge only on the issues as defined by the media elite. Tuesday’s brawl was mostly about the virus, the economy, violence in the streets, the Supreme Court. But November’s vote for many Americans will be a choice between an administration that believes we the people should run Washington, and those who believe the swamp should rule the masses. Mr. Biden wouldn’t challenge the mandarins; he’d unleash them.
Chairman Lindsey Graham hauled the former FBI director in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee ostensibly to answer for stunning new details in the bureau’s Trump-Russia probe. But the hearing more broadly resurrected the breathtaking arrogance of the swamp. This was the crew that in 2016—based on the thinnest of tips—launched a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign, complete with secret surveillance warrants and informants. Mr. Comey triggered the public release of the collusion accusations. He secretly kept memos of his conversations with a president, for future leverage. He leaked them, to provoke a special counsel and two years of hell.
FBI agent Peter Strzok in 2018 lectured Congress that the bureau had too many “safeguards” and “procedures” ever to allow “improper” behavior. Yet this past week provided evidence the FBI leaders blew through red light after red light. We already knew they based the probe on a dossier that came from a rival campaign. We knew the bureau was warned early on that the dossier was potential Russian disinformation. And now we know it discovered that the man who was the dossier’s primary source had been under FBI investigation as a suspected agent for Moscow. The bureau hid all of this from the surveillance court. It even doctored an email to conceal exculpatory information.
Mr. Comey highlighted the double standard again on Wednesday, as he danced around accountability. The probe’s biggest problem was that it was run at the top with no checks or oversight. Yet according to Mr. Comey, the top didn’t include the FBI director. “I can’t recall.” “I don’t remember learning anything.” “I don’t recall being informed of that.” “That’s about all I can recall.” “I don’t know.” “That doesn’t ring a bell.” So responded Mr. Comey for hours. His claims of obliviousness contrast with recent documents showing widespread concern in the FBI about the probe’s problems, with agents and analysts fretting about future “tough questions” and rushing to purchase professional liability insurance.
Mr. Biden has yet to be asked on the campaign trail if he approves of this FBI behavior, including its misrepresentations to a surveillance court. Or what he thinks of Mr. Comey, who has been excoriated in three inspector general reports. Or of former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, fired for leaking and for lying to investigators. But Biden’s failure to voluntarily weigh in on such a consequential scandal may be viewed by voters as evidence that Mr. Biden is fine with it. And why wouldn’t he be? This all took place in Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s Washington.
Those eight years featured plenty of other swamp monsters, and don’t underestimate the number of Americans who fear a return to that world. Lois Lerner harassing conservative nonprofits. Supervisors at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives loosing guns in Fast and Furious. The Environmental Protection Agency minions who burned companies with ever-changing rules. The Bureau of Land Management harassment of ranchers and farmers. Energy Department officials steering stimulus payouts to Solyndra and other projects of Obama donors.
No one knows who will win this election. But the Comey testimony warns against thinking this battle will swing on candidate personalities alone. No matter how much the elite media wills it so.
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Appeared in the October 2, 2020, print edition.