Was FBI Director James Comey Sending a Coded Message about Hillary? Probably Not — and Yet …

By Tom Gilson Published on July 6, 2016

A man who intends to be taken at his word will try to speak believably. I’m not sure FBI Director James Comey intended to be taken at his word yesterday morning.

Most of his presentation on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton and her private email server was based on inside, privileged knowledge. Still, what he revealed confirmed what we thought we knew from Congressional testimony and various other sources: Hillary violated good judgment and broke federal law.

But when it came to the key moment of his report, when he announced his decision on recommending charges, his language suddenly turned inconsistent with what everyone knows. He would not recommend prosecution, he said, because “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against Hillary Clinton. No reasonable prosecutor? None? It’s a nakedly false statement.

He didn’t have to state it in such absolute terms. He could have said, for example, “It would be unreasonable to bring a case against Mrs. Clinton.” What he said instead was obviously false.

Generalities without exceptions exist in logic (there are no married bachelors) and they fit in fine with physical impossibilities (no NBA center can walk through a hobbit door without stooping). They are rare in most in the world of human decision-making. To say that no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case against Hillary Clinton is, in essence, to say that if we polled all the reasonable prosecutors in the land, we wouldn’t find one who would bring a case against Hillary Clinton. Really?

Comey had to know that this was unbelievable. He knew what kind of case he had just stated against Hillary. He knew there were reasonable prosecutors who would pursue a case like that. Many of them have spoken up already. What he said there at the key point of his presentation was undeniably false. Debate over.

Men who intend to be taken at their word don’t speak things so obviously wrong, so easily disprovable. Not in prepared statements, at any rate.

And this might provide a clue to a puzzle. Across the nation, people have been wondering how Comey could have concluded there was nothing to prosecute among all the crimes he had just enumerated. The answer can’t be found in the decision itself; it’s too bizarre. But maybe it’s there in the way he announced it: unbelievably, that is, like one who doesn’t expect to be taken at his word.

This wasn’t just some throwaway line in the middle of a technical statement on some obscure law, after all. Where he spoke most obviously unbelievably was right at the crux of his explanation for his decision.

I suppose he could have been speaking carelessly, off the cuff; or perhaps he didn’t realize the implications of his strong generalization. But this was a prepared statement on the FBI’s most closely watched investigation in decades. It’s hard to believe he didn’t know exactly what he was doing. It’s a lot more likely he said it for a reason.

And thus far, the only reason that makes sense is that someone was strongly, maybe even in some manner forcibly, preventing him from speaking what he knew to be true. It could be that his “decision” not to recommend charges was really someone else’s — someone who would benefit from keeping the truth well hidden and the case out of court — and yet he couldn’t say so. The best he could do was inject a code line signaling that he didn’t want us to take him at his word.

It is a dark, conspiratorial theory, I know. It’s probably totally off base. I’ve never been a conspiracy theorist and I don’t intend to turn into one now. I’m sure there are other plausible explanations for Comey’s brazenly implausible generalization that I haven’t thought of yet, so I’m not landing on this as the only one. Surely there must be a better explanation, and this speculation of mine will be found out to be as silly as most other conspiracy proposals.

And yet, and yet …

If James Comey had wanted to send a coded signal that he was under duress, and that we shouldn’t take him at his word, I can’t think of a better way he could have sent it.


Update: see also Scott McKay’s American Spectator article, “Comey’s Hanoi Confession.”

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