Richard Painter is a Republican ethicist and former White House Ethics counsel. As he explains in a New York Times Op-ed he has filed a citizen complaint alleging that FBI director James Comey has violated the Hatch Act prohibition against electoral work by federal employees. Painter is not someone who would do that casually.
Like many I admired James Comey for his principled stand when the Bush Administration tried to get an ailing A.G. John Ashcroft to sign off on their torture policy. Therefore I have been sympathetic and supportive of him as a man of principle. Such loyalty however can lead to downplaying the negative. That is what happened here: Back in July James Comey seized the spotlight, going on TV to denounce Hillary Clinton as "extremely careless". He did that without clearing or even informing the Attorney General. He could be given something of a pass at that moment. Fresh off the 20 minute chat with Bill on a plane- she had affirmed that she would follow the FBI's recommendation regarding Hillary's email investigation. But that writ merely authorized him to announce that the FBI had decided not to recommend prosecution. It did not call for him to stage a made-to-order video attack advertisement. From that moment on he violated the Hatch Act as Painter's Op-ed suggests. His release of a letter to Congress that prompts insinuation and speculation 11 days before the election has caused me to go back and reassess. My conclusion: James Comey does not recognize the necessity of civilian control. He should resign his post forthwith. - GWC
Richard W. Painter, a professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, was the chief White House ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007It is not clear whether Mr. Comey personally wanted to influence the outcome of the election, although his letter — which cast suspicion on Mrs. Clinton without revealing specifics — was concerning. Also concerning is the fact that Mr. Comey has already made highly unusual public statements expressing his personal opinion about Mrs. Clinton’s actions, calling her handling of classified information “extremely careless,” when he announced this summer that the F.B.I. was concluding its investigation of her email without filing any charges.
But an official doesn’t need to have a specific intent — or desire — to influence an election to be in violation of the Hatch Act or government ethics rules. The rules are violated if it is obvious that the official’s actions could influence the election, there is no other good reason for taking those actions, and the official is acting under pressure from persons who obviously do want to influence the election.
Painter concludes: This is no trivial matter. We cannot allow F.B.I. or Justice Department officials to unnecessarily publicize pending investigations concerning candidates of either party while an election is underway. That is an abuse of power. Allowing such a precedent to stand will invite more, and even worse, abuses of power in the future.