With a letter and announcement that seemed to catch everyone outside the administration’s inner circle off guard, President Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey, effective immediately. The fallout has made huge waves inside and outside the beltway as both parties react to the news and the accusations of foul play start flying.
First, the news of the firing as reported by the Associated Press:
President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday, dramatically ousting the nation’s top law enforcement official in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump’s campaign had ties to Russia’s meddling in the election that sent him to the White House.
In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the FBI. Comey has come under intense scrutiny in recent months for his public comments on an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton’s email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year’s campaign.
Trump made no mention of Comey’s role in the Clinton investigation, which she has blamed in part for the election result. But in announcing the firing, the White House circulated a scathing memo, written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton probe, including the director’s decision to hold a news conference announcing its findings and releasing “derogatory information” about Clinton.
Here’s a roundup of reactions from Democrats:
However, Senator Warren also couched her criticism of Trump with criticism of Comey as well:
The Associated Press also points out, in a separate story, that Democrats were livid with Comey during the 2016 campaign when he “re-opened” the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server use just weeks before Election Day:
Starting with Hillary Clinton herself, Democrats have blamed James Comey for her loss to President Donald Trump. And yet when Trump fired the FBI director, those same Democrats rushed to defend him.
“Twilight zone,” Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook wrote on Twitter. “I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone at how the email investigation was handled. But this terrifies me.”
Behind the apparent Democratic turnabout on Comey: While his pronouncements about his probe into Clinton’s handling of emails infuriated them, he’s also the man who’d been looking into whether Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russians. That left many blasting the firing as an abuse of power, even if as they did not quibble with the reasons the White House put forward as cause.
Comey “inflicted severe damage on the institution of the FBI,” said Brian Fallon, the Clinton campaign’s press secretary, an interview. Still, he said, the timing and manner of his dismissal suggests Trump was “feeling the heat on the ongoing Russia investigation” rather than executing “a well-thought-out response to the inappropriate handling of the Clinton investigation.”
Even some Republican voices are critical of the firing, as Breitbart reports on comments from conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer:
On Tuesday’s broadcast of the Fox News Channel’s “Special Report,” columnist Charles Krauthammer argued that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s claim that FBI Director James Comey should be fired due to his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails is “highly implausible.”
Krauthammer said, “[A]ccording to the letter by the deputy attorney general, this is about something that occurred on July the 5th. This, it’s — so we start out with something that is highly implausible. If that was so offensive to the Trump administration, what you would have done is, in the transition, you would have spoken with Comey, and said, we are going to let you go. That’s when a president could very easily make a decision to have a change. That’s not unprecedented. But to fire him summarily with no warning, in the middle of May, because of something that happened in July, is almost inexplicable.”
He continued, “Do we really believe that Donald Trump, after all these months, decided suddenly he had to fire this guy because he damaged Hillary back in July? Another implausible conjecture.”
However, other outlets are defending the firing, such as the Wall Street Journal editorial board:
President Trump fired James Comey late Tuesday, and better now than never. These columns opposed Mr. Comey’s nomination by Barack Obama, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director has committed more than enough mistakes in the last year to be dismissed for cause.
And columnist Michael Goodwin, of the New York Post:
The suddenly-former FBI boss was long cavalier about making enemies among both Democrats and Republicans, as if going rogue repeatedly proved his rectitude. On occasion it did, but Comey increasingly wore his self-righteousness on his sleeve, confident he was too big to fire.
That was his fatal mistake. And it’s why Trump made the right decision to show him the door.
Comey’s power-grabbing arrogance is why I called him “J. Edgar Comey” two months ago. His willingness to play politics, while insisting he was above it all, smacked of Washington at its worst. He was the keeper of secrets, until they served his purpose.
President Trump himself responded to Democrats with several tweets sent out in the past twelve hours:
And the New York Times reports that the calls for a special prosecutor to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election are growing as a result of the Comey firing:
Mr. Comey’s firing immediately fueled calls for an independent investigator or commission to look into Russia’s efforts to disrupt the election and any connections between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government.
Calls to appoint an independent prosecutor have simmered for months, but until now, they had been voiced almost entirely by Democrats.
Mr. Comey’s firing upended the politics of the investigation, and even Republicans were joining the call for independent inquiries.
Just for the record, I’ll add my take on the Comey matter as well. I think the writing was on the wall for Comey ever since his actions during the 2016 campaign. Even if Hillary Clinton were to have been elected instead of Donald Trump, I believe Comey’s days would have been numbered. Whether Comey intended it or not, the F.B.I. became a political entity in 2016, with both Republicans and Democrats rooting for or against the agency depending on what Comey was saying with regard to Clinton’s or Trump’s Russian connections.
Back in the middle of January, just days before Trump’s inauguration, Bernie Sanders was one of the loudest voices saying Comey should resign:
Sen. Bernie Sanders(D-Vermont) called out FBI Director James Comey on Sunday During an interview on ABC’s This Week. Sanders said the way Comey handled Hillary Clinton’s email during the election “outrageous.”
During the interview, Sanders pointed out at the idea that Comey should “step down” from his position for his unacceptable behavior during the Presidential campaign.
Sanders said, “I think that Comey acted in an outrageous way during the campaign. No one can say that this was the decisive and this was what elected [Donald] Trump, but clearly his behavior during the campaign in terms of what he said in the week or two before the election was unacceptable.”
I happen to agree with Bernie on this one. The fact of the matter here is that Comey was doing one of three possible things during the 2016 election: playing politics on his own accord, letting politicians influence him, or simply illustrating his incompetence. You can pick which one is the best option.
However, Comey didn’t step down, Trump fired him. Therefore, this opens an entirely new can of worms for Trump as the appearance of impropriety is strong, especially given the ongoing investigations into campaign-related issues like the Trump-Russia investigation. As a result, it’s very possible that Congress may appoint an independent counsel to continue this investigation outside the administration and without the threat of dismissal. If Republicans in Congress agree with Democrats on the matter, the writing may be on the wall:
At least two Republicans on Tuesday cited the Comey firing in calls for Congress to create a special body to investigate the Russia matter, instead of or in addition to the investigations by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, said he was studying legislation that would create a special commission. And Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, called for the creation of a special select committee, which would be made up of members of Congress.
This story will be ongoing for weeks. Stay tuned.