Why James Comey is just perfect to run Donald Trump’s FBI
FBI Director James Comey, who played a controversial and perhaps pivotal role in the 2016 presidential election, won't be ushered out of Washington along with a host of former President Barack Obama's appointees.
President Donald Trump asked Comey to stay on the job — at least, that's what he told senior FBI leaders on a recent conference call, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.
The FBI director, whom Obama appointed to a 10-year term in 2013, kept popping up throughout the 2016 race. First, he cleared Hillary Clinton after an investigation into the erstwhile Democratic presidential nominee's use of a private email server while at the State Department. When he did so, Trump blasted the decision, using it to haul out his well-worn talking point that the election was "rigged."
Then, with 11 days left in the race, Comey made a surprise announcement —which some said broke with protocol for FBI non-involvement in electoral politics and is the subject of an ongoing Justice Department inspector general's investigation — that the investigation into Clinton's emails was being reopened. Donald Trump rejoiced in the decision. Analysts have speculated that, despite clearing Clinton again two days before the vote, Comey's announcement helped throw the election to Trump.
That possibility, despite the hand his announcement may have lent Trump, isn't what makes Comey the perfect fit to run Trump's FBI.
The email probe has served to overshadow Comey's stated views on racial bias in policing. Comey has said he doesn't see racial bias a particular problem in law enforcement — a view that makes him a suitable candidate for ushering in the "law and order" era that Trump promised at his inauguration.
"Racial bias isn't epidemic in law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts," Comey said in a speech delivered at Georgetown University on Feb. 12, 2015.
The problem is that ample evidence suggests Comey is wrong. Racial profiling is an epidemic in U.S. policing and racial disparities in arrests and sentencing have long been system.
Comey's beliefs pose a deadly threat to the Americans on the receiving end of this pattern of racial bias, those who, for example, disproportionately encounter police officers in routine traffic stops because of their race.
The views held by the FBI director on police bias are particularly confounding because he has spoken publicly about the factors that too often lead such routine traffic stops into being fatal encounters: implicit bias.
In his speech, Comey gave a thorough explanation:
Many of us develop different flavors of cynicism that we work hard to resist because they can be lazy mental shortcuts ... The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street — even in the same clothes — do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior ... We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.
Obama, Comey's former boss, recently cited racial profiling statistics kept by the FBI in remarks he made about a rash of police violence. Following the police shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in July, Obama noted that activists protesting throughout the country were right to be outraged that African-Americans are 30% more likely than whites to be pulled over, three times more likely to be searched (along with Latinos) and, in 2015, were were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.
And yet, Comey has proved himself to be an apologist for law enforcement racism — even in the very same speech where he acknowledged the problem of implicit bias.
"I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living — people who risk their lives because they want to help other people," Comey said in the 2015 speech. "They don't sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. to help white people or black people or Hispanic people or Asian people. They sign up because they want to help all people."
That view might be just the cover Trump needs to, through yet-to-be confirmed attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, expand policing in minority communities nationwide. Trump has called for national implementation of stop-and-frisk policing, a strategy once championed by the New York Police Department that a federal judge ruled unconstitutional in 2013. During his confirmation hearings, Sessions lamented the unfair criticism police officers received during the Obama administration and pledged to promote a culture of honor and respect of the profession.
In their first few days in office, Trump and his administration have shown an apparent willingness to play fast and loose with the facts. Comey's refusal to frankly acknowledge racial bias in policing makes a perfect complement to this "post-fact" tack — and just the man to put Trump's "law and order" vision in place. For people of color, though, Comey's willful ignorance could portend deadly consequences.