​Righteous Jim is Even More Righteous Than You Thought

James Comey really is that righteous, apparently. Before examining a quote from his book that deals with Martha Stewart’s trial and her apparent crime of lying, it’s helpful to remember a little bit about Puritan New England. Here’s a description from The New England Historical Society of some aspects of their justice system:

The first Puritans took with them the bilbo as a way to punish sinners and lawbreakers. According to Alice Morse Earle, it was named after its place of origin, Bilboa, Spain, and shipped with the Spanish Armada in anticipation of all the English prisoners they'd have to shackle.

They were a simple but effective restraint; a long heavy bolt or bar of iron having two sliding shackles, something like handcuffs, and a lock. In these shackles were thrust the legs of offenders or criminals, who were then locked in with a padlock. Sometimes a chain at one end of the bilboes attached both bilboes and prisoner to the floor or wall; but this was superfluous, as the iron bar prevented locomotion.

In their New Jerusalem, here we have the precursor of the orange jumpsuit and the handcuffs and leg restraints. But alongside this were vital changes from English criminal practice at the time:

... the Puritans were more concerned with moral behavior and clean living than they were with property rights. They took their laws from the Bible, rather than English precedent, and people were less likely to be punished for larceny than for blasphemy, idolatry, drunkenness, lewdness, fornication, cursing or smoking.

Long-term incarceration was unknown, though capital punishment for 12 crimes - including blasphemy, counterfeiting and witchcraft - was accepted. Puritan law recognized the principle that no one should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process, and explicitly limited government power. The law prohibited unlawful search and seizure, double jeopardy and compulsory self-incrimination while guaranteeing bail, grand jury indictment and trial by jury.
In other words punishment for bad behavior was always leavened by due process and the possibility of redemption. That helped provide both the optimism and the personal moral responsibility that are so deeply ingrained in America's DNA. But it's a tricky balance to uphold, especially when a sprawling administrative state has produced a dense thicket of rules, regulations, ordinances, and laws that increasingly criminalize a wide range of endeavors. And with a powerful prosecutor like Mueller, or Comey in the Martha Stewart case, that righteousness becomes a dangerous weapon that refuses to admit it can be used in as partisan a manner as anything else nowadays.

Here's that quote from Comey's book sermonizing on the Martha Stewart case:

There was once a time when most people worried about going to hell if they violated an oath taken in the name of God. That divine deterrence has slipped away from our modern cultures. In its place, people must fear going to jail. they must fear their lives being turned upside down. They must fear their pictures splashed on newspapers and websites. People must fear having their name forever associated with a criminal act if we are to have a nation with a rule of law. Martha Stewart lied, blatantly, in the justice system. To protect the institution of justice, and reinforce a culture of truth-telling, she had to be prosecuted. I am very confident that should the circumstance arise, Martha Stewart would not lie to federal investigators again.

Comey's not quite calling for Martha to be placed in a stockade with a her legs in a bilbo, but it's close. And the lack of real self-introspection on the part of prosecutors like Mueller or Comey (or Andrew Weissmann one suspects) means that your rights to due process as a defendant are severely hampered by the aggressive tactics they use. They are tactics that flow from their view that your must suffer in the public square in order for justice to be seen to be done. You must be made an example of. And all they need is a slip up on your part in recalling facts that they have carefully recorded and organized into a poisonous set of trick questions set up to entrap you, if not quite in the legal sense of the term.

The problem isn't just Jim Comey. It's the attitude of prosecutors in general. The FBI and the DOJ and local and state prosecutorial overreach need a close examining. Whether Trump gets nailed by them or not. Whether Trump or someone in his circles actually colluded or not. Whether Cohen used dirty tricks to silence women like Stormy Daniels or not. Prosecutorial practice in America needs a re-examining. Unfortunately partisan battles in Congress and in the courts themselves, means that is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Politically, it's too convenient a weapon. When it's being used by your side of the aisle at least.

Posted by Keeley at April 19, 2018 8:58 PM
Comment #426397

The author seems confused about who Comey is. He’s a right wing nut job who has advocated for that viewpoint for his entire life. He has said recently that the official right wing party has left him behind in the rush towards fascism. He didn’t realize that they had already been there for a very long time. Other right wingers like him want to blame everything on Dumpty, but he’s only reflecting what he thinks that party will accept based on their policies. They just don’t like him because he violates all those rules against naughtiness that the puritans promulgated, while at the same time supporting him for the sake of partisan solidarity.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 20, 2018 2:45 PM
Comment #427162

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