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Bush White House Ethics Lawyer Calls for Investigation of FBI Director Comey

Richard Painter, who advised the George W Bush White House on Ethics, has called for the investigation of FBI Director James Comey.  (Photo: University of Minnesota).

Richard Painter, who advised the George W Bush White House on Ethics, has called for the investigation of FBI Director James Comey. (Photo: University of Minnesota).

Richard W. Painter, chief White House ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, has called for an investigation of FBI Director James Comey for violating the Hatch Act. The provision prohibits federal employees from engaging in partisan politics.

Painter served in the Bush White House from 2005 to 2007 and now teaches at the University of Minnesota School of Law.

“I have spent much of my career working on government ethics and lawyers’ ethics… and I never thought that the F.B.I. could be dragged into a political circus surrounding one of its investigations. Until this week,” he wrote today in The New York Times.

Painter said he filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, which is charged with investigating Hatch Act violations. The Act and government ethics rules prohibit public officials like Comey from using their office for political purposes.

Those acts include an “executive branch official acting under pressure from politically motivated members of Congress,” he wrote.

“Such violations are of even greater concern when the agency is the F.B.I.,” he added.

Comey touched off a political firestorm on Friday when a brief letter he wrote to Republican members of Congress was made public. In it, he stated that emails discovered in an unrelated case may be related to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

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In light of the new information, Comey wrote that he was reopening the Clinton email investigation. In another letter to members of his staff, however, he revealed that he had not reviewed any of the emails, nor had they even been obtained yet with a search warrant.

Comey sent the Congressional letter even though he was advised against it by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The action also violated long-standing Justice Department policy.

Several Republican Congressional committees as well as the FBI investigated Clinton’s use of the server. In July, Comey said no reasonable prosecutor would bring charges against Clinton based on the investigation.

Painter drew an analogy to the FBI’s current investigation into Russian hacking of Democratic Party officials’ computers.

“Imagine a possible connection between a candidate for president in the United States and the Russian computer hacking,” he wrote.

“Imagine the candidate has business dealings in Russia, and has publicly encouraged the Russians to hack the email of his opponent and her associates.”

He continued:

“It would be highly improper, and an abuse of power, for the F.B.I. to conduct such an investigation in the public eye, particularly on the eve of the election. It would be an abuse of power for the director of the F.B.I., absent compelling circumstances, to notify members of Congress from the party opposing the candidate that the candidate or his associates were under investigation. It would be an abuse of power if F.B.I. agents went so far as to obtain a search warrant and raid the candidate’s office tower, hauling out boxes of documents and computers in front of television cameras.”

“The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election,” he wrote.

Painter also revealed the he initially supported Jeb Bush for president, followed by Marco Rubio, John Kasich and Clinton after Trump won the GOP nomination.

The former ethics lawyer said it was unclear whether Comey personally wanted to influence the election, but called his letter “concerning,” because it cast suspicion on Mrs. Clinton without revealing specifics.”

He was equally troubled by Comey’s earlier statements calling Clinton’s handling of classified information “extremely careless” without filing charges over the summer.

“The rules are violated if it is obvious that the official’s actions could influence the election, there is no other good reason for taking those actions and the official is acting under pressure from persons who obviously do want to influence the election,” Painter wrote.

“This is no trivial matter. We cannot allow F.B.I. or Justice Department officials to unnecessarily publicize pending investigations concerning candidates of either party while an election is underway.

“That is an abuse of power,” he wrote.

For his complete statement, check out The New York Times.

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