James Comey
Credit: Rich Girard/Flickr

Both James Comey and the Republican Party are learning an important lesson: never abet a monster to protect an institution.

If it weren’t for the continuing insanity surrounding the White House, the revelation that James Comey knowingly highlighted false “intelligence” planted by Russia in order to protect the FBI’s sources and institutional credibility would be the scandal of the year. Given that Comey’s press conference on Clinton in the last week of the election almost certainly tipped it in Trump’s favor, that would make the Russian plant one of the most brazenly successful hostile intelligence operations of the last century.

Then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake — created by Russian intelligence — but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself, according to multiple officials with knowledge of the process.

As a result, Comey acted unilaterally last summer to publicly declare the investigation over — without consulting then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch — while at the same time stating that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information. His press conference caused a firestorm of controversy and drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Comey’s actions based on what he knew was Russian disinformation offer a stark example of the way Russian interference impacted the decisions of the highest-level US officials during the 2016 campaign.

I’m sure it seemed like the best move for Comey at the time: Clinton seemed assured of victory, and it was more important to him to protect the FBI’s institutional assets and preserve it from Republican accusations of favoritism once Clinton won.

Obviously, that’s not how things turned out. Now the consequences are dire.

The Republican Party is experiencing a similar dilemma right now. Trump is in a spiraling freefall, but the Republican Party can’t dissociate itself from him without potentially giving up a chance at unprecedented conservative policy changes. But the damage that Trump will do to the Republican Party by the time it’s all over makes the GOP’s insistence on protecting him shortsighted at best.

Institutions will survive some bad press if their foundations are strong. But let a monster loose, and it could destroy the entire structure and everyone around it.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.