After James Comey’s decision to not pursue charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton this past summer, some Democratic partisans praised him as a true man of integrity.
However, a cursory examination of his career shows that Comey is anything but a principled champion of following the law to the letter — and that Democrats were foolish for praising him as such. As the Guardian’s Trevor Trimm writes, Comey has often “taken authoritarian and factually dubious public stances both at odds with responsible public policy and sometimes the law.”
Below, we’ll recap four times Comey has shown bad judgement and has undermined justice in the United States.
Support for indefinite detention without trial of American citizens. While he was a Deputy Attorney General, Comey made the argument that the Bush administration was right to imprison American citizen Jose Padilla indefinitely without any trial. The logic was that Padilla, he had been accused of conspiring to detonate a “dirty bomb” in Chicago, was an “enemy combatant” in the war against terrorism, and not a U.S. citizen who was owed due process.
“After a careful process, [President Bush] decided to declare Jose Padilla for what he was: an enemy combatant, a member of a terrorist army bent on waging war against innocent civilians,” Comey wrote in 2004. “And the president’s decision was to hold him to protect the American people and to find out what he knows. We now know much of what Jose Padilla knows, and what we have learned confirms that the president of the United States made the right call, and that that call saved lives.”
Support for strong mandatory minimum sentences. Despite the fact that there’s growing bipartisan consensus that mandatory minimum sentences have proven to be excessively punitive, Comey has continued to support them as a staple of our criminal justice system.
“I know from my experience… that the mandatory minimums are an important tool in developing cooperators,” he said when publicly objecting to reforms made by the Obama administration that cut down on the use of such sentences.
Claiming that increases in crime are due to police feeling overly scrutinized. The so-called “Ferguson effect,” which posits that crime will go up if officers feel afraid to do their jobs over fear of public criticism, has no concrete evidence to back it up.
Nonetheless, that didn’t stop Comey in 2015 from saying that scrutiny of police is directly tied to increased crime.
“I don’t know whether that explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year,” he said during a speech at the University of Chicago Law School.
Comey signed off on using torture — despite trying to convince the Bush administration that it was wrong. In 2005, Comey tried to convince the Bush administration that it shouldn’t use so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding and wall slamming.
The New York Times reported in 2009 that even though Comey believed that techniques such as waterboarding were “just awful,” he still signed off on a legal opinion that gave the CIA the green light to use them during interrogations.
“That opinion, giving the green light for the C.I.A. to use all 13 methods in interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation, ‘was ready to go out and I concurred,’ Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times,” the publication wrote.