The former chief ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration has filed an ethics complaint against FBI Director James Comey, alleging he violated federal law banning executive branch employees from certain forms of political activity.
In a stinging op-ed commentary for The New York Times posted Sunday, Richard Painter, who worked in the White House Counsel's office between 2005 and 2007 as chief ethics lawyer, accused Comey of violating the Hatch Act.
"The F.B.I.’s job is to investigate, not to influence the outcome of an election," he wrote, explaining why he filed his complaint on Saturday with the Office of Special Counsel and with the Office of Government Ethics."
LawNewz.com posted a copy of the complaint.
"I write to request investigation of apparent violations of the Hatch Act by the Director and perhaps other officials in the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in connection with highly unusual public statements while voting is underway about the status of an investigation concerning a political candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," Painter, a Clinton supporter, wrote.
"I also request that the Office of Government Ethics ask the FBI to conduct an internal investigation of whether there has been misuse of official position, 5 CFR 2635.702."
Painter acknowledges it isn't clear Comey "personally" wanted to influence the outcome of the election, though he says specific intent isn't required.
"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," he wrote in his op-ed.
"Absent extraordinary circumstances justifying it, a public communication about a pending FBI investigation involving a candidate for public office that is made on the eve of an election or, as in this case, while voting is in progress, is very likely to be a violation of the Hatch Act," he wrote.
"It is also a misuse of official position. The fact that politically motivated members of Congress want the communication to be made publicly only enhances the seriousness of the violation; it is not an excuse."
In an interview with LawNewz.com, Painter said Comey could've sent the letter after the election without having "breached that promise to update" lawmakers about the investigation. He also said Comey could've asked lawmakers "that the letter would not be released or discussed publicly right before the election."
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