President Obama may have appointed James Comey to his post as FBI director, but the commander in chief appears less than happy with the job Comey has done lately. In an interview Wednesday with NowThis News, President Obama criticized Comey and the FBI in a not-so-subtle way. Yet at the same time, the president also insisted he was making "a very deliberate effort to make sure that I don’t look like I’m meddling in what are supposed to be independent processes for making these assessments.”
Obama made the reason for his displeasure is clear: In a letter sent Friday to Congressional chairmen, Comey announced that the FBI would review new emails related to the Hillary Clinton private server and were discovered in connection with an unrelated case. The New York Times reported just a few hours later that FBI's investigation of Anthony Weiner was the means by which the emails were discovered.
Since the announcement, members of the Senate and multiple attorney generals (appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents) have been openly critical of Comey's decision to share information about the investigation so close to the presidential election. On Wednesday, President Obama implicitly joined this chorus of critics:
We don't operate on innuendo, we don't operate on incomplete information, we don't operate on leaks. We operate based on concrete decisions that are made.
On this score, the president is correct. One of the most deeply troubling aspects of Comey's statement was its extreme vagueness. Reporters and voters alike were left almost entirely in the dark, and yet because a statement had been made by Comey, people were left to assume the worst. Why did Comey feel that such an unclear disclosure was appropriate in the few days before the presidential election?
I believe Comey may very well likely have the greatest influence on this election of any American other than the two major candidates. As New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote on Monday, Comey's decision was "outrageous and unprecedented."
But while Obama's criticism of the FBI is apt, he still shouldn't have said it.
The president also told NowThis that it was very important to him that he not appear to be meddling in the FBI's independent process. While I do not think Obama actually is meddling in the FBI's investigation, the appearance of any impropriety enables Clinton critics to dismiss any findings of innocence, as they did after Bill Clinton's ill-advised meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
Plenty of Democrats and administration employees have made their opposition to Comey's statement clear: By adding his own voice, I fear that Obama adds nothing to the conversation but room for right-wing suspicion.