Scorned by Hillary Clinton and her supporters, loathed by President Donald Trump and his allies, accused by the Justice Department of overreach – and now furiously protested as he delivered a convocation address at Howard University.
Former FBI director James Comey could be considered a divisive figure, but he doesn’t seem to be dividing much opinion these days. For a variety of reasons, Comey might be one of the most roundly disliked people in American politics right now.
September has been a cruel month for the former head of the FBI. After it was revealed on the last day of August that he drafted a statement clearing Clinton in the email server probe in advance of its conclusion, Trump pounced early the next morning.
“Wow, looks like James Comey exonerated Hillary Clinton long before the investigation was over … and so much more,” he tweeted. “A rigged system!”
But that was a love-tap compared to the accusations leveled by Clinton, who has been quite clear on how she perceives Comey’s role in the 2016 election. (At a Women for Women International event in May, she famously told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “If the election had been on October 27, I would be your president.”)
With the release of her book, “What Happened,” Clinton has re-released some of her ire in Comey’s direction.
“He, I think, forever changed history,” Clinton said during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on September 13.
“No nation, particularly an adversarial nation, can mess with our democracy,” Clinton told Cooper, describing what she would have done if the election had bounced her way. “I would have had an independent commission. I would have done everything I could to get to the bottom of it because it’s not going to stop. That’s what I’m worried about.”
The connection was clear – in Clinton’s analysis, Comey had cost her the presidency and with it the chance for the US to conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into the scope of Russian meddling during the campaign.
At Howard University on Friday, the anger was just as fresh, if more deeply rooted. Protesters chanted “we shall not be moved” and “white supremacy is not a debate” as Comey, the school’s Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King endowed chair in public policy, eventually fell silent for 15 minutes.
Among the complaints: Comey’s suggestion in October 2015 that police officers were being unduly cautious in response to increased scrutiny following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri – the so-called “Ferguson Effect.”
“In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?” he said then. “I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”
Those comments drew pushback from the former Obama White House. Former press secretary Josh Earnest said, “The available evidence at this point does not support the notion that law enforcement officers are shying away from fulfilling their responsibilities.”
HU Resist, a student activist group, handed out a statement on Friday condemning the remarks.
“James Comey represents an institution diametrically opposed to the interests of Black people domestically and abroad,” it said. “The ‘Ferguson Effect,’ for example, is an outright racist lie designed to undermine Black Liberation Movement.”
As he wrapped his speech, Comey said, “I look forward to adult conversations about what is right and what is true,” and he did eventually leave to a standing ovation.
But how his presence will play during what has been billed as a lecture series remains to be seen. If the past few months are any indication, there could be more choppy waters ahead.
CNN’s Laura Jarrett contributed to this report.