Former Bush Ethics Lawyer Files Complaint Against FBI Director
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
I spoke earlier with Richard Painter. He served as the chief White House ethics attorney under President George W. Bush, and he's now professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. And he's filed a complaint with Federal Ethics officials against Comey.
To him, it looks like the FBI director violated the Hatch Act which bars federal employees from using their positions to influence an election. Richard Painter told me there are two ways to violate that law.
RICHARD PAINTER: One is where you yourself want to influence the election - for example, if Director Comey had personal animosity against Hillary Clinton and wanted her to lose. And there's some evidence that could support that theory. He went well beyond what he needed to say last July when he criticized her simultaneously with deciding that nobody would be criminally charged in connection with the email server.
CORNISH: And you read that as intentionally meddling.
PAINTER: Well, I think that was going beyond what he needed to do. And so one could argue that Director Comey had animosity against Clinton, wanted her to lose. But that's only one way to violate the Hatch Act.
The other is where you have a government official who - they are pressured by somebody else who wants to influence the election to perform an official act in their capacity as a government employee that will have a likely effect on the election, and there is no other good reason for that official action (inaudible).
CORNISH: Are you saying that James Comey was acting under the pressure and influence of Congress, specifically Republican House leaders?
PAINTER: Well, there was an enormous amount of pressure from the committee exerted on the FBI with respect to this matter.
CORNISH: And you're referring to the House committees that are investigating her use of a private email server during her time at the State Department.
PAINTER: Well, yes. I mean this is not something that really should have involved Congress to begin with, and it - at least to the extent that they have been involved with it. And their motives are purely political, and they actually have that right legally because the Hatch Act doesn't apply to them, the members of Congress.
What is illegal is for the FBI to succumb to the political pressure from members of Congress and then make a promise that, well, we'll update you on any investigation that has to do with Hillary Clinton.
CORNISH: Now, you've said in this election you've supported Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and now you have landed on supporting Hillary Clinton. So what do you say to people who dismiss your complaint is coming from a political place, you being a Clinton supporter?
PAINTER: Well, I am coming from a political place. I'm a Republican, and we need a Republican Party that works. But Donald Trump is a disaster.
CORNISH: But what I'm saying is your voice is essentially adding to a long list of Democrats, partisans who are complaining about this this week.
PAINTER: I mean there has been criticism of this across the board, and unfortunately it's part of a pattern of extremely partisan conduct that is a fundamental threat to our democracy. And Republicans and Democrats alike are very, very concerned about this and particularly with people bringing in the FBI against their political enemies. That's not the way we do business in the United States.
CORNISH: Following this, do you believe that James Comey should be punished or penalized under the Hatch Act?
PAINTER: Well, I think that I'd like to see what type of remedial action he takes. If he continues to defend his actions, I don't think he understands the proper function of the FBI. I'm very concerned about that.
I mean we had a FBI director for years - J. Edgar Hoover - who'd collect files on people and use them against people. And I don't see that Comey wants to do that, but he's letting members of Congress use the FBI in that way. And he needs to acknowledge that that is wrong. And so far I'm very disappointed.
CORNISH: Richard Painter, former White House ethics counsel under President George W. Bush, thank you for speaking with us.
PAINTER: Thank you.
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