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Editorial: FBI director exercised terrible judgment by intervening in presidential campaign

James B. Comey needs to go, now. With the FBI director’s carelessness regarding the matter of Hillary Clinton’s emails and his pointless late-campaign intrusion into the election, Comey has rendered himself toxic to the cause of justice. He has been undone by his own bad judgment and should step aside in favor of new leadership.

The problem isn’t that the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, investigated Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. It was an appropriate, even necessary, undertaking. But if he wasn’t intending to influence the course of this month’s presidential election, his hamfisted handling of the investigation gave it that appearance. That is an ominous possibility given the authority of the nation’s top law enforcement agency.

With that, Comey is used up. Even if his missteps were honest or inadvertent, he has lost the credibility necessary for administering a law enforcement agency that must, at all costs, be apolitical. It’s not J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI anymore.

Among Comey’s most grievous violations were the way he cleared Clinton of wrongdoing in the email case in July and his decision to go public with a renewed investigation only days before the election. Both violated long-established standards.

Typically, law enforcement agencies never acknowledge the existence of a preliminary investigation, let alone its conclusion. This one was a legitimate exception to that rule and, for that reason, Comey appropriately revealed that it had ended and that Clinton would not be charged with any crime.

But he went beyond that, making inflammatory observations about her that, while welcomed by Clinton’s adversaries, were inappropriate to a law enforcement agency. What was needed was his conclusion, without the personal observations about her use of a private email server. That was political.

Even more troubling was his public announcement in late October that the investigation had resumed following the discovery of related emails on a computer used by Anthony Weiner, estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. With that, he violated long-standing policies, giving the clear appearance of inserting a law enforcement agency into the late stages of a presidential election. He cleared Clinton – again – only two days before the election.

It provides no excuse that he may have feared the information would leak anyway. In fact, it only makes the episode more troubling, since it suggests that elements within the FBI have become politicized. It augurs poorly for the agency’s standing going forward and needs to be confronted immediately. Comey is no longer equipped to take on that task.

Clinton has blamed Comey’s late-game announcement for her loss. Whether that’s true cannot be known, but Comey should have realized his actions had at least the potential to affect the election.

It’s fair to observe – again – though, that none of this would have happened had Clinton simply used the State Department’s email server. It showed poor judgment and handed her opponents an issue that wouldn’t go away.

Comey is in the midst of a 10-year term. He can be fired for cause by the president, though it would be a politically fraught move. He needs to spare the country that additional strain and division and resign. Sooner is better for the cause of American justice.

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