The White House Move Came Without Warning, And While Comey Was Not In Washington
The Trump Administration points to Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail case as the main reason for the firing, saying the FBI has lost the public trust. Democrats immediately asserted the President’s true motive was to kill an FBI investigation into Russia ties, and called for an independent prosecutor. The LA Times says Comey was visiting the FBI’s Los Angeles field office when he learned of his firing from TV. At first, he thought it was a prank, according to the New York Times.
“Must-Reads” (If You Haven’t Already):
• President Trump’s letter, which is centered around Trump’s assertion that FBI Director Comey told him “on three separate occasions” that he is “not under investigation”, without mentioning for what. He also doesn’t forget to wish Comey “the best of luck in…future endeavors.”
• Detailed memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Interestingly, the first thing the memo discusses is Comey’s decision not to recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton last June. It then criticizes Comey for coming forward a week before the election with newly discovered e-mails. (A move Clinton claims cost her the election.) The last thing the memo discusses is how Comey lost public and congressional trust because he refuses to “admit his errors.”
• This late-night piece from the New Yorker’s John Cassidy, who, in our opinion, hits the nail on the head. Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy.
Some Brief Impressions
You may still be in shock. We know we are. But if you think about it, the only thing that is really surprising is the timing of the move, and the fact that it didn’t leak. Trump was no fan of Comey and spoke derisively and often of his decision not to recommend criminal charges for Hillary Clinton last June. As we brought up above, it was the first reason pointed to by the firing recommendation from the Attorney General’s office.
Trump proves he’s agile, and quick to act when he senses an opportunity. Depending on where you stand, you could see this as strength, not despotism. Many Republican Senators spoke in favor of Trump’s move. And Comey’s statements to Congress earlier in the week, which turned out to be not entirely accurate [ProPublica] give the President some additional cover: it’s hard to argue misleading Congress is not serious.
Trump clearly wants the FBI investigation into Russian campaign interference to go away. This has been evident for a long time, and heightened over the past couple of days. While we are reluctant to postulate too much, if the President’s hubris comes in anywhere, it’s here. The Russia investigation at this point may have a life of its own, even if the next FBI director lays off.
That’s what Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, a longtime member of the Judiciary Committee calls the sudden firing, referring to President Nixon’s attempts to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.” And Minority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly called for an independent special prosecutor saying if that doesn’t happen “every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire Director Comey was part of a cover-up.” Schumer has asked all Democratic Senators to be on the floor at 9:30 this morning to hear what, if anything, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has to say about the firing.
Trump Tweeted back at Schumer:
Cryin' Chuck Schumer stated recently, "I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer." Then acts so indignant. #draintheswamp
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
While many Republicans backed Trump’s move, many also seemed baffled. Two Tweets:
I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 10, 2017
That from Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake.
And from Michigan Republican Justin Amash:
My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre. https://t.co/wXeDtVIQiP
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 9, 2017
Trump’s Personal Touch
Conservative Columnist Bill Kristol made much of the fact that both the Justice Department “recommendation” and Trump’s letter were dated the same day. And the Washington Post, and others, pointed out that the meat of Justice Department memo was no more than a bunch of “newspaper quotes and Op-Eds” already in the public domain, suggesting rather than a recommendation to the President, it was a hastily constructed document to back a move the President had already decided on. But the White House didn’t exactly go out of its way to make it look otherwise. It provided all the letters together to the media as a packet, and Trump sent the firing memo by what he has many times mentioned is his preferred method for conveying important documents: in a plain envelope, by the hand of his personal bodyguard.
Who’s Next To Head FBI?
That’s the next logical question, and something pundits are already buzzing about today. But really, this whole episode has unfurled in such a bizarre way, it’s hard to make any predictions. Just one: It seems unlikely acting FBI director Andrew McCabe will get the job permanently. In another of many crazy twists, he’s got Clinton Problems of his own.