Before last night, there was only one time in the history of the United States when a president had fired a director of the FBI. It was in July 1993, when reports of inappropriate government spending on personal items (like a $10,000 fence on his property) convinced Bill Clinton to send FBI Director William Sessions packing. The decision was the first of its kind, but hardly controversial; the bigger political risk for Clinton would have been to dismiss the ethics complaints and let a corruption-plagued Sessions stay in his job.
Last night’s firing of James Comey by President Donald Trump was the exact opposite of that. Nobody—not Justice Department officials, not members of Congress, not even Comey himself—had any clue that Trump was preparing such a radical move. Comey would find out that he was out of a job when he saw it on television at the FBI field office in Los Angeles, and at first he didn’t believe it. According to the New York Times, he thought the entire thing was a joke.
And how could he not? The idea that a president whose campaign associates are under active investigation over their connections to a foreign power would fire the person directing that probe seems so audacious as to be fictional. Haven’t we learned anything from Richard Nixon? Comey couldn’t believe it because it was indeed unbelievable.
Comey was no doubt in hot water over a long list of decisions he’d made during the preceding 10 months, from holding a press conference to castigate Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information as “extremely careless,” to his decision less than two weeks before the presidential election to send a letter to Congress stating that the investigation against Clinton had been reopened. Democrats are convinced that Comey handed the White House to Donald Trump on a silver platter. Hillary Clinton herself believes the same thing.
In the White House’s telling, Comey’s management of the Clinton email case was justification enough for his removal. In a memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein says that the litany of errors Comey committed last year, including his going above Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s head despite Justice Department procedures, was indefensible and high-order malpractice. The FBI and the Justice Department, Sessions wrote in his own letter to Trump, would be unable to regain the trust of the American people as long as current leadership was in place.
Nobody with half a brain can seriously believe this official explanation. How can we possibly swallow such nonsense when we can roll the tape and watch Trump congratulating Comey for extending the Clinton probe and for withstanding the political pressure to (in Trump’s words) “do the right thing”? Administration robots like Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway can embarrass themselves on national television all they want, but nobody is buying what they’re selling.
This had nothing to do with emails and everything to do with the fact that President Trump remains furious at Comey for telling Congress last month that the Bureau is investigating whether Trump campaign officials collaborated with Russian intelligence operatives to skew the presidential election in Trump’s favor. As Politico reported last night, “Trump had grown angry with the Russia investigation – particularly Comey admitting in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating his campaign – and that the FBI director wouldn’t support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower.”
Donald Trump wants a yes man at the bureau instead of a professional investigator who follows the facts where they lead and goes about collecting evidence without partisan malice. James Comey is nobody’s lackey, and he paid for it with his career.
Don’t buy the ridiculous buffoonery that White House officials are peddling. Trump despises the Russia investigation, is concerned about how it develops, and is hiding behind Jeff Sessions and Ron Rosenstein to get rid of a man who doesn’t give a rat’s ass what politicians think of him. In so doing, he’s made Comey into a martyr and turned the bonfire that is the Russia inquiry into an inferno.