On 9 May, President Trump ordered the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey with a written letter. In true Trump Administration fashion, Comey learned of his dismissal by watching a news report and only received the letter afterwards. If you want to read the letters from the President, Attorney General Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, the Washington Post has a copy.
If you don’t feel like reading a long letter by a Deputy AG, allow me to summarize: Rosenstein recommended that Comey be fired because of his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation, in which he publicly announced that no charges would be pursued, and that Secretary Clinton acted extremely carelessly with her private server. If you remember, that announcement back in July rocked the Clinton campaign and drove Democrats like me up the wall. In fact, when I went over Mr. Rosenstein’s letter, a lot of the talking points sounded like they could be taken straight from the mind of an anti-Comey Democrat:
The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution.
Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation.
The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.
Mr. Rosenstein continued, citing a number of former DOJ officials like Eric Holder (Obama Admin.), Mike Mukasey (Bush Admin.), and Alberto Gonzales (also Bush Admin.) who expressed dismay at Comey’s willingness to go public with his fifteen-minute statement. The quotes, which took over a third of his entire report, summed up to saying that Comey’s public response was unconventional and out of line with DOJ policy. With all that being said, Rosenstein ended his letter by saying that Director Comey’s actions damaged public confidence in the Bureau and that Director Comey could not be expected to help repair that level of trust.
If we just take Mr. Rosenstein’s letter in a vacuum, this dismissal makes some degree of sense. Granted, it is extremely strange for an FBI Director to be fired for any cause, because it has only happened once in the FBI’s history, when President Clinton dismissed Director William Sessions after he refused to resign over ethics violations. Holding an unconventional public statement about the conclusion of an investigation is certainly different from the private use of FBI resources. Of course, this doesn’t make the dismissal a crime or even particularly suspicious, because the President doesn’t actually need a reason to remove an FBI Director from his post.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
If Comey were truly dismissed over his handling of the e-mail controversy, that wouldn’t be a problem at all. Is it unnecessary? In my opinion, yes. While Comey’s actions were infuriating and frustrating, I retain full confidence in his ability as a lawyer and law enforcement officer (by the way, at age 56, he has plenty of time left in his career – if Trump’s successor decides that he/she wants to pick someone new for the Director of National Intelligence, CIA Director, or Attorney General of the United States, I believe Comey’s name should be on the shortlist).
However, does anyone really think that Trump, AG Sessions, and Deputy AG Rosenstein actually care about his handling of the investigation enough to fire him? As stated earlier, Mr. Rosenstein’s letter reads like that of an unhappy Democrat DOJ official, not like one who works for a Republican President whose campaign very clearly benefited from Comey’s public presence in the 2016 election (and while the cited Comey Effect is just an observation and not a conclusive finding, imagine how the election would have gone if Comey hadn’t publicly criticized Secretary Clinton or sent this letter to Congress – Secretary Clinton certainly has). It is possible that Mr. Rosenstein’s presented the true rationale, but I can confidently rattle off a list of things that should raise doubts about the White House’s official story. To put it another way, this is why the official White House account does not add up. At all.
- Timing: The White House’s letter gives the impression that they lost confidence in Director Comey’s leadership ability as a result of his involvement in Secretary Clinton’s e-mail investigation. However, his public statement came on 5 July 2016, and his bombshell letter to Congress came on 28 October 2016. The current administration has known since 9 November 2016 that James Comey would continue to serve as the FBI Director under President Trump, and they raised no serious questions about his competency and legitimacy until very recently. Trump would have been within his rights to ask for Comey’s resignation in private, but he obviously did no such thing. Hell, in January it became public knowledge that the new White House wanted to keep Comey. Since then, Comey has only landed in hot water twice – once when the DOJ-OIG (see below) began an official investigation into his conduct, and once when he misspoke about the scope of Huma Abedin’s e-mails to Anthony Weiner. However, neither incident has been cited in the letters provided to the public. For the White House to bum around and sit on their hands for seven months before getting rid of Comey over a ten-month-old issue makes no sense at all.
- The Inspector General’s Report Is Unfinished: Back in January, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General reported that Director Comey was under investigation for his handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation. No public report has been released since then, and considering how terribly leaky this White House is, there appears to be no indication that the Office of the Inspector General has released a private report either. Given that the news of his firing took Comey by surprise, it’s not unreasonable to assume Comey hadn’t seen the report either (again, because there probably was no report at the time). If I were the sitting President of the United States and I wanted to discipline the FBI Director over his handling of an investigation, I would probably wait until I could read an official report on the handling of the investigation, just to be sure of my reasoning. Failure to do so would mean that I would be removing a distinguished officer of the federal government without a complete wealth of evidence and analysis, an action comparable to convicting a defendant and sentencing him to prison before his trial can even start. Of course, I’m not the current President, and you can tell because I speak in complete sentences and because I don’t say or do stupid shit on a regular basis (note: those are all separate links).
- Deputy A.G. Rosenstein Is VERY New to the Job: The man who wrote the full letter to Sessions and the President, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has only been in office since 25 April. The day he wrote his letter, 9 May, was his fourteenth day on the job. That doesn’t add up at all – why or how was a Deputy Attorney General with only fourteen days of experience (less, really, since he was only confirmed on 25 April and was only midway through Day 14 on writing the report) able to come to the conclusive determination that an FBI Director with three years of experience as Director should be fired? I don’t care if he’s a pro-Trump Republican or a fervent long-time hater of Director Comey, there is no reasonable way that he can make such a forceful conclusion after only two weeks on the job. Did he spend all fourteen days and nights interviewing colleagues and subordinates about Comey’s conduct? Did he manage to gain access to an unpublished DOJ-OIG report (see above)? Remember, this guy was not privy to any special access while Director Comey was stirring up his pre-election controversy. I find it highly improbable that Mr. Rosenstein was able to come to an independent, impartial determination that Comey deserved to be dismissed after such a short period of time. What is far more likely is that a senior official, possibly Trump himself, wanted Comey out and needed Mr. Rosenstein to write (or at the very least, sign his name) on a harsh report recommending his dismissal. In fact, new information shows that Mr. Rosenstein may have actually threatened to resign his post last night after everyone pointed their fingers at him for this hatchet job.
- Trump Had Praised Comey For This: If you were living under a rock until two days ago, you wouldn’t have had any reason to doubt Mr. Rosenstein’s letter regarding the firing of Director Comey. However, it is critical to note that until recently, President Trump absolutely loved Comey’s actions (the same ones he’s supposedly being fired for), praising him repeatedly on the campaign trail and capitalizing on his comments. Instead of criticizing his conduct like a bunch of people in the Democratic Party, he adored it. Like I said earlier, it’s common knowledge that if it weren’t for Comey’s actions in July and October of 2016, Hillary Clinton would have won the election to become the 45th President of the United States (even if only by a very slim electoral vote margin – obviously the campaign had other problems in the Rust Belt, but considering how slim her losses there were, even the smallest of factors could have tipped the balance). Hell, Trump even gave him a reassuring handshake and a compliment back in January over his conduct, saying with a grin that Comey had become more famous than he was. By the way, for those following that link, it’s worth noting that Comey is 6’8″, which is why he towers over Donald Trump and everyone else in the room. It’s not the camera angle, he’s just enormously tall. With this in mind, it’s extraordinarily strange for anyone to assume that Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions, and Rod Rosenstein found a sudden moment of clarity by adopting Democrat criticisms of Director Comey. Until Tuesday, I was under the impression that the White House was just going to let it slide. By suddenly reversing course, the Trump Administration appears to be agreeing with Democrats opposed to Comey, an unprecedented and eyebrow-raising act which doesn’t gel with how we have seen the Administration act before.
- This Is the Culmination of a Week-Long Hunt for an Excuse to Fire Comey: Because this administration doesn’t do anything without being blatantly obvious about their true intentions, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that multiple outlets are reporting that Trump wanted an excuse to fire Comey, and wanted Sessions to find that excuse. This is obviously abnormal because the administration wanted Comey out, and this hunt for an excuse was a way to find cover to get him out. Usually, a good administration will find a fire-able offense first, and then decide whether or not someone should be removed from office. In fact, while I started writing this piece on Tuesday night, information released Thursday afternoon has revealed that Donald Trump may have wanted to fire Comey for a much longer time than he previously let on.
- The Last Fired Director Was Committing Ethics Violations, a Far More Serious Offense: As I noted earlier, Comey is only the second FBI Director to have been fired. The first was Director William Sessions, who was repeatedly asked to resign over concerns of ethics violations (specifically, using public money to install a private security system in his house and flying an FBI jet for personal use), but refused. Everyone else has either retired, been promoted to a different job, or resigned under polite political cover (where a President offers an official the chance to quietly resign instead of becoming the face of a drawn-out scandal). Comey’s “offenses” are minuscule in comparison – holding a public announcement to conclude a private investigation, then telling Congress about the reopening of said investigation.
- Acting Director McCabe Contradicted Claims of Lost Confidence: In statements made to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Acting Director McCabe shot down allegations that Comey had lost the trust of his colleagues and subordinates at the FBI. This came in direct conflict with statements by Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders (who, by the way, is Mike Huckabee’s daughter), who tried and failed to downplay the Russia investigation and disparage the level of trust that Comey enjoyed. At best, the White House has some serious miscommunication issues between the FBI and the Office of the Press Secretary. At worst, the White House was lying. Again.
The dismissal of an FBI Director should not be taken lightly by anyone, especially when it is obvious that the White House is obscuring and concealing their true rationale for such an act. To believe that the White House got rid of Comey primarily because they genuinely did not like his handling of the Clinton investigation requires a massive suspension of disbelief. The White House has tried to pin a year-old controversy on a Director whom they previously praised OVER HIS HANDLING OF SAID CONTROVERSY, and did so by getting an administrator with barely two week’s experience to pull the trigger on him, ignoring legitimate and traditional procedures of investigation and discipline. With this level of shady concealment, it has become painfully obvious that the Trump Administration is lying to the public about why they fired Comey. Here’s some free advice to anyone who might end up becoming the President one day: if you have to fire the nation’s top law enforcement officer, don’t lie about why you did it. I suspect some people might be reading this and thinking: “Lying? Isn’t that a little harsh?” Not at all – the letters said that the White House fired Comey over the e-mail investigation, when it’s fairly obvious that wasn’t the reason.
I don’t even deny that the other point in the letters – that Comey lost the confidence of the American public – is valid. While I have always respected Comey, albeit through gritted teeth at times, most Democrats and a sizable number of Republicans don’t trust his ability to lead the Bureau. However, while the letters asserted this point, they muddy the waters by providing flimsy supporting evidence based around the e-mails.
So … why take the strange step of firing Director Comey, and why do it now when he is so busy? There are two reasons that come to mind. One is excusable, albeit petty. The other points towards months, if not years, of investigations and hearings, or impeachment if things really go downhill.
THE TRUE EXPLANATION, PART ONE: Comey was way too independent for Trump.
As everyone knows by now, James Comey is not anyone’s puppet. The following is taken from Comey’s 2007 testimony to Congress, backed by reports from FBI Director Robert Mueller, Solicitor General Ted Olson, and a bunch of others. In 2004, Comey was the Deputy Attorney General under Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George W. Bush. One night, Ashcroft fell ill and had to be taken to the ICU at GWU Hospital, leaving Comey in command of the Department of Justice. At the same time, the Bush Administration was trying to get authorization to continue a domestic intelligence program that didn’t require warrants for wiretaps. Ashcroft and Comey knew it was illegal, and didn’t want to sign the authorization form, much to the chagrin of President Bush, Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and White House Counsel (later Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales. When word got around that Attorney General Ashcroft was in the hospital, Card and Gonzales tried to circumvent Comey’s refusal to sign by heading to Ashcroft’s bedside. Their hope was to convince a delirious, heavily-medicated Ashcroft and get him to sign the authorization and overrule Comey. Comey was already on his way home from the DOJ when a colleague called him about Card/Gonzales’ shenanigans. Instead of continuing home, he told his driver to speed to the hospital, where he jumped out of the car, sprinted up the steps of the hospital, and rushed straight to his boss’s bedside, accompanied by an armed security detail.
Comey arrived just in time – Card and Gonzales arrived just minutes later with the authorization form and tried to get Ashcroft to sign the form. Luckily, Ashcroft was aware of his surroundings and refused to sign the form, then pointed at Comey and said he [Comey] was in charge. Of course, had Comey not arrived and Ashcroft been slightly more drugged up, Ashcroft very may well have been tricked into signing that order.
Anyways, the next day Comey, Ashcroft, their staff, and FBI Director Mueller threatened to resign their posts, but President Bush talked them out of it. That was Lesson #1 from the “Comey doesn’t take crap from nobody” Academy, and although he retired shortly thereafter to work for Lockheed Martin, that story impressed President Obama enough that he appointed Comey to become his FBI Director in 2013. Because FBI Directors are supposed to be generally independent (fun fact: the reason Directors get ten year terms is to outlast Presidents and act generally independent of them), President Obama figured that he could get him passed through the Senate and that Comey would keep him honest. Hell, up until last year, Comey was a registered Republican.
The incident with his public remarks on Hillary Clinton’s e-mail investigation (and the subsequent letter to Congress) is just more proof of Comey’s independent streak.
President Trump did not like this go-it-alone nature one bit. It’s common knowledge by now that he values personal loyalty as one of the most important traits in a subordinate, refusing Rex Tillerson’s request to hire Elliott Abrams as the Deputy Secretary of State. Why? Because Abrams opposed Trump during the election, writing this piece in the conservative Weekly Standard newspaper. I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump had given this same cold shoulder to Mitt Romney (who was briefly under consideration for the job of Secretary of State) because of his scathing 2016 speech to the Hinckley Institute. This stuff is classic Trump, because we’ve all seen how he treats his opponents and less-than-loyal colleagues: with disrespect, belittlement, and punishment (when was the last time he said anything nice about Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio?). Imagine how livid the President must have been when Comey said that he felt “mildly nauseous” about having influenced the election, that there was no evidence to support the President’s claims about being wiretapped/microwave-tapped by President Obama, and that his campaign was under FBI investigation.
Oh, wait. We don’t have to imagine his anger, because we have a fairly good idea about how pissed off he was. If this is true (and there’s no reason to suspect it isn’t true – at the very least, it’s very plausible considering what we know about Donald Trump), this would be one of the pettiest and most embarrassing reasons to fire a senior administration official in our time. Is he within his rights to fire someone for not being completely subservient? Yes. Does that mean it’s a good idea? No.
Trump has over the course of past couple months several times expressed frustration “they can’t all just make this go away.”“He was mad at Sessions when he recused. Really mad,” the friend said. “Mad at his lawyer and the staff. Mad at you guys on TV. Mad at the committees. Mad at Comey. “
“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”
FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation [by the FBI regarding Russia], I nevertheless concur with…