James Comey Visits Yale

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Written by: Juanita Garcia, Hopper College ’22

The Brady-Johnson program in Grand Strategy and the Yale College Democrats invited former FBI director James Comey to speak on October 7 and October 8, respectively. Though both events were organized and moderated independently, they inevitably shared similarities among the topics discussed.

The Grand Strategy-organized event, entitled “the FBI: Past, Present, and Future,” was a conversation between James Comey and Beverly Gage – professor of History and American Studies as well as Director of Grand Strategy – and moderated by Asha Rangappa,  senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and a CNN legal and national security analyst. Rangappa loosely moderated the discussion around four central themes: the FBI’s perception and public image; its rules and accountability; its relationship with civil rights; and the independence of law enforcement. Professor Gage and Director Comey’s responses complemented one another, as Gage elucidated questions regarding the FBI’s troubled past, while Comey discussed its controversial present. 

Most surprisingly, the FBI’s dubious investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email use and the consequences of the 2016 Russian election interference were left largely unaddressed in great detail. Instead, more historical controversies – like J. Edgar Hoover’s shaping of the FBI, its harassment of Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists, and its institutionalized, homogeneous culture – were at the forefront. Additionally, discussed in great detail were Director Comey’s efforts to combat the lack of diversity within the FBI. While in office, Comey spearheaded a series of campaigns aimed at improving the racial and gender parity within the Bureau, focusing on the particularly diverse New York office for the CBS television series FBIcreated by Dick Wolf, the executive producer of Law & Order. In their closing remarks, both Gage and Comey seemed hopeful for the future of the FBI, despite America’s current political climate, and insinuated that the current administration is incapable of undermining the objectivity and independence of the Bureau and the intelligence community.

The Yale College Democrats – in conjunction with the Politic, Every Vote Counts, the Jackson Institute, and the Yale International Relations Association – hosted a “Conversation with James Comey,” moderated by Aliesa Bahri (Murray ’22). Structured differently than Grand Strategy’s event and focusing more on contemporary issues, Director Comey opened with a monologue extensively discussing Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the breath of declassified information released by the Senate Intelligence Committee the day before. When asked about President Trump’s impending impeachment inquiry, Director Comey asserted that the best measure of accountability is voting the president out of office in 2020, not removing him through impeachment. 

Moreover, Director Comey spent considerable time explaining the previously-confidential reasoning for the FBI’s questionable handing of the investigation over Secretary Clinton’s email use, which some attribute to influencing the election in favor of now-President Trump. Director Comey insisted that the investigation was necessary, but the timeline – with the final findings released just days before the election – as unintentional. Nevertheless, he maintained that the Bureau’s actions were integral in ensuring its objectivity and political independence, as deferral of action could have been interpreted as aiding Clinton’s campaign complicity. In his final justifications, Comey stated that he believed that damage to the credibility of the FBI was inescapable, but the Bureau has an extensive experience in atoning for its actions.

On the whole, Director Comey proved optimistic for the future and integrity of America’s political system despite the deepening political polarization. He likewise was confident in the FBI’s stable and objective role as an enforcer of America’s democratic ideals and its strides in atoning and correcting itself following controversies.