Why is Trump Keeping Comey as FBI Director?
It was announced yesterday that the Trump administration would be asking James Comey, the current FBI Director, to stay on in that role and continue leading the agency. This comes after months and months of battles during the election over whether Comey was right or wrong in deciding whether or not to reccomend indictment of Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. It also comes as the FBI is still said to be investigating some associates of Donald Trump and looking into ties to Russia.
The New York Times reports:
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, told his top agents from around the country that he had been asked by President Trump to stay on the job running the federal government’s top law enforcement agency, according to people familiar with the matter.
A decision to retain Mr. Comey would spare the president another potentially bruising confirmation battle. It would also keep Mr. Comey at the center of the F.B.I.’s investigation into several Trump associates and their potential ties with the Russian government.
As the story notes, Trump fell just short of asking for Comey to resign. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, said Comey should step down. The feelings on Comey changed depending on whether his actions appeared to be helping one side or the other. When it was first announced that he did not recommend any criminal charges against Hillary Clinton, he received praise from Democrats, and scorn from Republicans. Then, just weeks before Election Day, when he announced the investigation into Hillary was reopened due to emails discovered on Anthony Weiner’s laptop, the opposite reactions came from both parties as Republicans cheered, and Democrats attacked.
So, the big question is, why would Trump keep him in his current position? The Times story has some of the answer:
Retaining Mr. Comey could also help calm the bureau’s work force, which has been rattled after a tumultuous few months in which the F.B.I. and the director himself were sharply criticized for moves that many felt influenced the outcome of the presidential election. [Emphasis added]
During the campaign, Mr. Trump harshly criticized the F.B.I. and the Justice Department for not bringing criminal charges against Hillary Clinton in connection with her use of a personal email server. After Mr. Trump was elected in November, he said in a nationally televised interview that he had not made up his mind about whether he would ask Mr. Comey to resign.
Trump’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, stated that Trump has confidence in Comey, and that Comey’s 10 year term, which started in 2013, still has time remaining:
On Jan. 15, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, appeared on ABC News’s “This Week” program and signaled that Mr. Trump had no immediate desire to get rid of Mr. Comey.
“Yes, he has confidence in Director Comey,” Mr. Priebus said. “We have had a great relationship with him over the last several weeks. He’s extremely competent. But, look, his term extends for some time yet. There’s no plans at the moment in changing that term. And we’ve enjoyed our relationship with him and find him to be extraordinarily competent.”
From what it appears, Comey is staying merely for the sake of continuity, and perhaps because Trump is giving him deference for his actions during a very heated election year. There were literally no actions Comey could have taken in 2016 that wouldn’t have seriously angered one side or the other.
Another possibility, I suppose, is that they don’t have anyone in mind to immediately replace him since the FBI Director typically serves a 10 year term. Comey will continue in this role until 2023 if he is not replaced or does not step down in the interim.