Do I think Comey believes that the treatment has been fair and equal? I think he believes it's been as fair as he can make it. That doesn't mean he's right. But I think I know what he's telling himself.
Consider what we're hearing about apparent Internet traffic between the Putin-linked Alfa Bank and Trump Tower. In a New York Times story clearly spun by law enforcement sources who aren't Clinton fans, Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers tell us:
In classified sessions in August and September, intelligence officials ... briefed congressional leaders on the possibility of financial ties between Russians and people connected to Mr. Trump. They focused particular attention on what cyberexperts said appeared to be a mysterious computer back channel between the Trump Organization and the Alfa Bank, which is one of Russia’s biggest banks and whose owners have longstanding ties to Mr. Putin.A Slate story by Franklin Foer described the evidence as much more persuasive -- although Foer acknowledged that the innocent explanation could be correct.
F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank. Computer logs obtained by The New York Times show that two servers at Alfa Bank sent more than 2,700 “look-up” messages -- a first step for one system’s computers to talk to another -- to a Trump-connected server beginning in the spring. But the F.B.I. ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.
Comey, I think, tells himself that he believed there was wrongdoing in the way Hillary Clinton handled her emails, and there might be wrongdoing here -- but he's looking for what might stand up in court in both cases, and he didn't find that in either case. Never mind the fact that he publicly upbraided Clinton and hasn't done the same for Trump.
CNBC reports that the FBI didn't want to put its name on a government statement accusing the Russians of trying to hack the election because, in Comey's opinion, it was too close to the election -- something he didn't worry about when he announced that emails relevant to the FBI's Clinton investigations were found on Anthony Weiner's laptop (and something he also didn't worry about when he simultaneously exonerated and chastised Clinton last summer). I think Comey tells himself he was doing the right thing in the Trump case and that he would have done the right in the Clinton case, but he was just under so much pressure -- from congressional Republicans, from leak-happy underlings -- that he simply had no choice. He meant well!
And this, from the New York Times story, strains credulity, but I'm sure Comey thinks it's simple fairness:
The most serious part of the F.B.I.’s investigation has focused on the computer hacks that the Obama administration now formally blames on Russia. That investigation also involves numerous officials from the intelligence agencies. Investigators, the officials said, have become increasingly confident, based on the evidence they have uncovered, that Russia’s direct goal is not to support the election of Mr. Trump, as many Democrats have asserted, but rather to disrupt the integrity of the political system and undermine America’s standing in the world more broadly.How do you hack the campaign of one candidate in an election that only two candidates can win without helping the other candidate? And if you wanted to undermine faith in U.S. elections, why wouldn't you hack both campaigns, or concentrate on the electoral process, or just attack everything you can that's connected to the election?
I've seen it argued that Putin believes Trump can't win and assumes he can weaken Clinton without helping to elect Trump. Maybe Putin actually does believe this, even though polls at several moments in the race (including now) have made clear that Trump absolutely can win. (Nate Silver now believes that Trump has as good a chance of winning the election as the Cubs do of coming from behind to win the World Series. It's far from impossible to win a World Series after being down 3-1, and then 3-2 -- it's been done several times.)
This benign analysis, we're told, comes from the intelligence agencies, so we can't blame Comey exclusively. But he's gone with it -- again, perhaps, because he doesn't want to taint the election (unless pressured to do so by conservatives). Maybe he just needs more pressure from our side. That pressure is coming now, and leaks are flowing. It could be that Comey's FBI is equally willing to roll over in response to political pressure, and Republicans are just better at exerting that kind of pressure. That might be what Comey tells himself.