US news is all abuzz with the firing of FBI Director James Comey by Donald Trump and speculation is running rampant as to the possible motives and I thought I might as well put in my two cents. One thing we can ignore right off the bat are the rationales put out by the Trump administration for the firing because Trump is a petulant man-child who lies about everything and sees everything in terms of how it affects him. If he thinks that people are on his side, he praises them. If he thinks someone is disloyal to him, he attacks them viciously.
The only other dismissal of an F.B.I. director — the firing of William Sessions by President Bill Clinton in 1993 — was backed by a 193-page report from the F.B.I.’s own Office of Professional Responsibility, which detailed Sessions’s misconduct.
One theory is that Trump fired Comey to stop the investigation into his and his cronies’ nefarious activities, both with the Russian government and his business dealings with unsavory characters. But that argument seems weak. There is an old saying “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” and surely if Comey had damaging information on Trump, then why ignominiously fire him, when he would be angered and also freer to speak about what he knew?
And we must not forget that while the top levels of government agencies are political, lower down are career professionals, many of whom do operate with a sense of loyalty to the institution they serve and are not partisan hacks. These are the people who actually do investigations and gather evidence and that process will go on. Surely an action that they feel damages their institution would not be seen kindly by them?
In the Byzantine world of Washington intrigue, the CIA has been seen as leaking information against Trump while the FBI has been seen as favoring Trump. Why would Trump alienate the FBI too? It is possible that Trump thinks that this action will intimidate these career people into giving up, but that is not how bureaucracies work. There is an inertia that needs to be overcome. It is more than likely that Trump will try to appoint a die-hard loyalist to be the next director and that that person will try to shut down any investigations, but in that case we are likely to see leaks about what happened.
The trouble is that this view gives too much credit to Trump for the ability to think strategically. The real reason may simply be that he was angry that Comey did not publicly give him a clean bill of health, if rumors based on anonymous leaks are to be believed.
President Donald Trump weighed firing his FBI director for more than a week. When he finally pulled the trigger Tuesday afternoon, he didn’t call James Comey. He sent his longtime private security guard to deliver the termination letter in a manila folder to FBI headquarters.
He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.
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.
I have not been a fan of Comey. His high point came in 2004 when he was Deputy Attorney General under John Ashcroft and, in a dramatic late night incident, he rushed to a hospital with then FBI director Robert Mueller and defied then White House Counsel (and later Attorney General) Alberto Gonzalez when the latter tried to pressure Ashcroft on his hospital sick bed to re-authorize George W. Bush’s domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had determined was illegal. His action was seen as principled then and his reputation soared among Democrats.
But Comey also has the reputation of being ambitious and arrogant, ignoring the advice of his senior aides and others, and too eager to speak in public. We saw that with his repeated missteps where, contrary to policy, he made public statements about the status of investigations into Hillary Clinton’s emails while investigations were still going on, and then had to follow up with more statements as new information came in. These were the reasons given by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yesterday that recommended the firing.
But all these faults of Comey were well known and do not explain why he was so unceremoniously dumped yesterday. However bad he was, the abrupt firing of an FBI director for no obvious new and serious reasons, seemingly in a fit of pique, is a sign of an administration that is run on caprice and impulse, which should not cause any surprise anymore with Trump but is still disturbing.
You can listen to Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald discuss the firing in the first 15 minutes of the latest Intercept podcast.