In conservative circles, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts used to be a respected figure, held in high regard. Roberts enjoyed a lengthy record as a center-right jurist, and when then-President George W. Bush nominated him to the high court, Republicans everywhere were delighted.
Roberts did not, however, stay in the right’s good graces. After the chief justice voted to uphold the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act – twice – quite a few conservatives, and even some Republican presidential candidates, turned on Roberts, questioning his judgment, intellect, and integrity.
Right about now, I suspect FBI Director James Comey can relate to how Roberts must feel about his former admirers abruptly changing their opinions.
Comey, in case anyone’s forgotten, is a lifelong Republican who served as a top official in the Bush/Cheney Justice Department. He cut his teeth as a public-sector attorney in the 1990s, when Comey signed on “as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee,” where he went after, of all people, Hillary Clinton.
I’m not aware of anyone on the right questioning Comey’s abilities or professionalism ahead of yesterday’s announcement in the email matter. On the contrary, Republicans gave Comey a vote of confidence as recently as June. Politico published this report one month ago today:
Should the FBI not recommend an indictment of Hillary Clinton following its investigation of the setup of her private email server, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Monday said he and his Republican colleagues would “probably” accept the outcome.“Oh, probably, because we do believe in [FBI Director] James Comey,” the Utah Republican said during an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered.” “I do think that in all of the government, he is a man of integrity and honesty.”
Yesterday, however, Chaffetz said the exact opposite, and accused Comey of failing to carry out his duties. Other GOP members of Congress made related arguments, while some Republican pundits adopted an even harsher posture.
The pattern matters. John Roberts was an excellent justice, Republicans said, right up until he strayed from the partisan script. Trey Gowdy was the perfect person to lead the GOP’s Benghazi Committee, they said, right up until he failed to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And Jim Comey was a fine FBI director, right up until he left his party dejected by exercising independent judgment.
In reality, Roberts, Gowdy, and Comey aren’t guilty of corruption or partisan betrayals – their “failures” exist solely in the minds of lazy ideologues. What their Republican critics don’t seem to appreciate is that their ostensible allies asked them to go too far, ignore their responsibilities, abuse an otherwise legitimate process, and look out for the “team,” whether the facts warranted it or not.
Comey didn’t play along with a partisan game, and his reward is a round of condemnations from the same people who, up until 24 hours ago, sang their praises.