James Comey has not been bashful of late,especially when testifying before Republican-controlled committees in Congress. Robert Mueller has been quite the opposite. Since being named Special Prosecutor to investigate possible collaboration between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia, he has been about as tight-lipped as any human being could be.
Yet, in so many ways, there are similarities between the two men. Professionally, both are trained attorneys. Both have held high-ranking positions in the U.S. Justice Department. Comey was U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and Mueller was an Assistant Attorney General in charge of the U.S. Criminal Division. Additionally, both have served as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Is it possible that the perception of Comey being gregarious, perhaps bombastic at times, and Mueller being silent and secretive could in fact be mirror images of what they would be like if their roles were reversed?
It is important to look at the sequencing of their tenures as Director of the FBI. Mueller was director from 2001 to 2013.Comey succeeded Mueller, holding the position from 2013 through 2017.
Comey was director during the time of the 2016 presidential race. There were alleged irregularities transpiring with both the Hillary Clinton and the Donald Trump campaigns. Comey was faced with tough decisions, both in terms of what actions to take behind the scenes and what, if anything, to say about the investigations.
Regarding the Clinton e-mails, Comey could find no criminal wrong-doing, but he did describe her custody of the e-mails as “careless.” The alleged Trump campaign transgressions were much more of a series of moving targets for Comey as new information was disclosed daily.
Comey made a series of decisions in the months leading up to the 2016 election that he would make public disclosures about Clinton’s e-mail case, but largely keep the Trump-Russia investigation under wraps (in part, for fear that the public would see disclosure as a political move by the Obama Administration designed to sway the election towards Clinton).
As we all know, once Trump became president as a result of winning the Electoral College, though coming up nearly three million votes short in the popular vote, he tried to quash investigations of any connections that his campaign may have had with Russia. This did not take long. Just two days after his inauguration, Trump invited Comey to the White House for a ceremony and called him over for a handshake (even though Comey had tried to find drapes in the room that matched his suit so that he might be “invisible;” not easy for someone who is six-eight.
Trump called him over, said a few odd words, and then later invited Comey to the White House for a one-on-one dinner. During the process of these encounters, Trump made it clear that (a) neither he nor his campaign had done anything illegal, and (b) Comey should lay off questioning his then National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, because he is such a good guy.
Trump was asking Comey to not do his job as Director of the FBI. Comey could not agree to this, and over the next four months, the tension increased until on May 9, 2017, Trump unceremoniously fired Comey. Comey learned of it when he was in a Los Angeles FBI field office and the news came over the television.
Before Comey was fired, he had testified before several Congressional committees, always having to be careful not to disclose details of ongoing investigations. After he was fired, he appeared again and was able to disclose a little more.
In some ways the firing liberated him. He wrote a book, A Higher Loyalty, he appeared on television, and had a speaking tour of the country. Earlier this week, he said, “Someone has to stand up …in the face of fear of Fox News.”
So where we stand now, Comey is the very vocal public figure and Mueller is the secretive private figure. But suppose that the timing of Comey and Mueller’s tenure as director of the FBI had been swapped. Suppose that Mueller had been director during the 2016 presidential campaign with alleged irregularities going on in the campaigns of the candidates of both major parties. Is it possible that he, like Comey, would have refused to bend to the pressure of Trump? Is it possible that he, too, would have been fired by Trump? And if so, would he have been as forthright as Comey has been in sharing his thoughts about the impropriety and possible illegality of the actions of Trump and his associates?
And what if Mueller had been fired as director of the FBI and Comey had been recommended by Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein to become Special Prosecutor. Would he have been as tight-lipped as Mueller has been in that position?
While there are criticisms of both Comey and Mueller from some reputable sources, together they stand as two individuals who are about as good as any two could be in this country, or any other. One is now seen as somewhat of a rabble-rouser; the other as the modicum of decorum. It’s an interesting muse to consider if under different circumstances, their roles could have been reversed and their behavior would have reflected that.