Research Paper Example on James Comey's Ethical Dilemma

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Vanderbilt University
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Research paper
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The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), James Brien Comey has appeared on global televisions multiple times for a reason. As the top boss of the FBI his speech and demeanor is likely to attract a lot of attention given the simplest of reasons. This is even more pronounced, as the content of any publicized issue coming from the boss is guaranteed preferential media coverage. However, it is seldom for a man in his position to make appearances that are as frequent as has been in the last couple of months and in the manner as to cause such a sustained public stir. To most, Comey's appearances on television have been borne out of controversy and political pressure regarding the Clinton emails case that is currently under investigation by his department (Ray, 2016). Questions have for instance been raised concerning Comey's non-traditional first-ever press conference on July 5, 2016, his testimony before members of the congress on July 7, 2016, and his letter to congress on October 28, 2016 about his earlier testimony. The attention surrounding Jamey is mainly because of the ethical dilemma that surrounded the press release, his testimony, and letter to congress.

It is usually not within protocol for the FBI director to go public, especially regarding a matter that is under ongoing investigation. James Comey met this exception when he commented about the Clinton case during the July 5, 2016 press release. He went ahead to suggest that the emails were not likely to make any significant contribution to the case concerning the leaked emails (Prokop, 2016). Furthermore, he also offered his opinion regarding the whole matter by claiming that Hillary had been extremely careless while handling the emails. Being in his position it is arguably clear that he was going against protocol, this is especially on the part regarding not to make moves to influence the outcomes of an election (Davis, 2016). However, looking at the context of the situation and the position occupied by the director from an ethical point of view, one does not fail to realize the dilemma in which Comey had found himself in (Ray, 2016). Whether to make or not to make the non-traditional press release would have had harsh consequences on the director.

If James Comey had for instance failed to comment on the Clinton email case, Clinton is likely to have gone into the polls as guilty candidate. This goes from the argument that the public opinion had been false excited at the time. To James and a majority of the politically incited public, being under investigation by the FBI implies that one is likely to be on the wrong (Davis, 2016). Thus, for a presidential candidate, political opponents would be quick to take advantage of the situation by painting the picture of a rival wanted for criminal charges and thus not fit for office. By not commenting on the issue, Comey would have let Clinton walk into the elections under a possibly false cloud. James and his bureau would have indirectly influenced the outcome of the election (Ethics Alarm, 2016). Thus, caught up in the situation, Comey was practically in a dilemma, and thus, he opted for the lesser evil. After all, his remark did not mean a closure to the case, rather, more time be needed to make justified conclusions.

The same ethical dilemma must have pushed the FBI director to make his testimony before members of the congress. As mentioned earlier, any apparent move made by the director concerning the matter at the time would have had some sort of influence on the coming elections, implying that responding or not responding to questions regarding the worthiness of evidence he held would have ethical implications too (Prokop, 2016). However, making a testimony before congress would help put the issue at rest as investigations continued. This must have made the best option for the director since the email issue would subside for a while, and thus withdraw the FBIs influence during the campaigns that had been ongoing. Comey was again caught up in an ethical dilemma as he had not wished to be associated with false accusations and the failure of Clinton during the elections, particularly if the evidence contained in the emails turned out to be insignificant to the case (Prokop, 2016). Again Comey had to opt for the lesser evil. According to the Incompleteness principle, Comey's move was justifiable because the principle allowed certain ethical considerations to be abandoned if they appeared to have undesirable implications (Ethics Alarm, 2016).

Also, based on the ethical incompleteness principles, Comey must have understood the lack of absoluteness of the law in interpreting every possible situation (Ethics Alarm, 2016). Having made a much publicized press release a few months ago, and the case still fresh in the eyes of the media and political world, Comey was still under intense pressure to make a conclusive move. This was further necessitated by the fact that new emails had resurfaced, and which could potentially have a significant implication on public opinion (Davis, 2016). Comey was once more caught up in a dilemma, which according to the then context, would have him on the spotlight for both acts of omission and commission.

If Comey had opted not to acknowledge the new emails as having had a potential implication on the closed case, he would risk being perceived as an accomplice to Clinton in her purported crime, this would especially be true if the new emails could prove that Clinton was indeed guilty. This would have had an ethical implication since it is unethical for law enforcers to conspire towards the achievement of certain outcomes during criminal investigation. If such a situation had indeed transpired, the implications would have been detrimental on the directors reputation, and on the entire FBI as well (Prokop, 2016). On the other hand, it was the directors obligation to resume on the closed case since new evidence had emerged, which could potentially provide enough conviction for a more justified verdict (Ray, 2016). In addition, the director had pledged to inform congress incase new evidence would emerge. Though contradicting with his initial remarks that the recovered emails would potentially have no significant importance on the case, doing so presented a lesser evil, and as seen today, would have lesser ethical implications on the director and the FBI (Prokop, 2016). Therefore, Comey's move to write to congress was necessitated by the ethical dilemma in which he had found himself in.

In conclusion, the FBI director was faced by a tough ethical dilemma, which presented harsh consequences had he chosen not to act when expected to, and not to when expected to act. A look at the likely outcomes of all alternative options that had been at the directors disposal reveals that prudence rested on picking the lesser evil.


Ray C. (2016). James Comey's Ethical Dilemma a no-win Situation. Retrieved from

Ethics Alarm. (2016). James Comey's Ethical Conflict. Retrieved from.

Davis, L. (2016). Comey's Actions Improper, Irresponsible and Possibly Illegal. Retrieved from.

Prokop, A. (2016). The Debate over FBI Director James Comey's New Clinton Email Letter, Explained. Retrieved from.

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