Conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt defended Donald Trump’s act of firing FBI Director James Comey, who is presiding over an investigation of Trump’s campaign and administration officials for possible collusion with Russia’s interference in the election, on the grounds that Comey shouldn’t have held a press conference announcing the results of the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email server. The press conference, in which Comey condemned Clinton, was viewed by many, including Hewitt, as damaging to the Clinton campaign.
Last summer an old D.C. hand took me to one of those Beltway places of lore for lunch and a cigar and talked candidly about how shocked he was at then-FBI director James Comey’s decision to publicly discuss the Hillary Clinton email investigation and to walk the public through a hundred details of the case and then conclude she should not be prosecuted. Agree or disagree with that decision, he said, it’s not what the FBI does. Ever. Agents present facts to prosecutors. They may nudge or even push in one direction or the other, but they don’t decide. My interlocutor, a former assistant U.S. attorney and then-senior official in numerous positions and companies, was not so much outraged by Comey’s actions at the time as puzzled, perhaps even shocked.
Curiously, in an MSNBC segment with Brian Williams on the day of Comey’s press conference, Hewitt said of Comey’s decision to announce publicly:
“I think he may have made a political decision in the best interest of the FBI.”
One wonders how it could have been in the best interest of the FBI if it had harmed trust in the FBI or in the FBI’s director, as Hewitt and other conservatives now argue. Hewitt was either wrong then or he’s wrong now.
In the Brian Williams segment, Hewitt was never asked directly about whether he thought it was the right decision to announce. He did, however, make many gleeful statements about how much he felt the announcement hurt Clinton.
“Look, she wasn’t indicted today, but she was convicted. Director Comey convicted her of lying repeatedly about not receiving or sending classified markings. She was convicted of being vulnerable to hostile agents. Her aides are convicted of actually having been penetrated by hostile agents. So I think you’re going to see Donald Trump and his surrogates in the Republican Party play the Comey press conference again and again and again. It was damning.”
“My political argument is he did enormous damage to Hillary Clinton today on her trustworthy factor, because I think that ad is going to play using his names every single day … We know she’s lying now. That was confirmed. She’s been lying a lot. She lied again and again about not sending or receiving classified markings, and Comey confirmed that today…”
Another interesting thing about his segment with Williams is that Hewitt said he had personally advised the Trump campaign on the political question of who to pick for vice president.
“I’ve sent a note off to a senior Trump advisor saying in my opinion they should select either Tom Cotton or Chris Christie, because both are lawyers with the ability to prosecute a case… They both can prosecute using James Comey’s own words about hostile agents…”
Here is the video:
Finally, it is also notable how interested Hewitt is in the possibility that Clinton was “vulnerable to hostile agents.” He appeared to believe at the time, based on speculation about what might have happened, that the Russian and Chinese governments even had compromising information on her from her email server:
— Hugh Hewitt (@hughhewitt) July 30, 2016
Given that he took what Comey said at the press conference at face value (and even spun it to be as damning as possible), what does he make of the report in January “that Russian operatives claim to have compromising personal and financial information about Mr. Trump, multiple US officials with direct knowledge of the briefings tell CNN”?
Well, Hewitt does seem to be much more skeptical of intelligence agencies investigating Trump than he was of the FBI investigating Hillary. In a March 30, 2017 segment with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Hewitt said:
“Now I want to ask you about a personal reaction to it, though. It suggests that incidental collection of American conversation in intelligence, perhaps even in Russian to Russian conversation, was pushed out by Team Obama for the purposes of cornering you guys?”
When there were leaks on Clinton from the FBI offices in New York or speculation from uninvolved ex-officials, Hewitt would often hype those stories without much thought to whether they were accurate or politically-motivated.