Blog No. 141. The Comey Firing: Why Now? and What Now?

The firing of James Comey is the latest bizarre chapter in the brief history of the Trump administration. The move stunned both Democrats and Republicans, and even many who had been quite critical of Comey found it difficult to defend the timing and manner of his dismissal. It has created a controversy that may not rise to the level of the firestorm created by Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” but it is not likely to disappear quickly.

The stated reason for Comey’s firing was his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. A memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein dated May 9 cited Comey’s press conference on July 5, at which he announced a decision not to indict Clinton but was harshly critical of Clinton’s conduct, and his statement on October 28, at which he announced the reopening of the Clinton investigation. Rosenstein’s memorandum quoted criticisms of Comey’s actions by several former Attorneys General and Deputy Attorneys General. All of the criticisms, however, had been made publicly several months ago. As Aaron Blake observed in the Washington Post, “The letter doesn’t actually add much to the public record or suggest extensive behind-the-scenes fact-gathering; it’s basically a summary anyone could have written in an afternoon.”

Several observers have questioned whether the handling of the Clinton email matter was in fact the true reason for Comey’s firing, pointing out that the actions complained of took place several months ago, and asked “Why now?” It is also noteworthy that, while Trump believed that Clinton should have been indicted–a point that was not made in the Rosenstein memorandum–he hardly objected to Comey’s criticism of Clinton. And he was loudly supportive of Comey’s announcement on October 28 concerning the newly-discovered Clinton emails. Moreover, there are other circumstances suggesting that the email matter may may have been a pretext for the firing.

Most recently, Trump could not have been pleased by Comey’s testimony on March 20 that the FBI was continuing to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government–and whether there was any coordination between them. In addition, Comey testified bluntly at the same hearing that he knew of no information to support Trump’s claim of having been wiretapped by the Obama administration. While Trump did not react publicly to Comey’s testimony on either point,  he soon  made it clear that he was still rankled by Comey’s conclusion that Clinton had not committed a criminal offense. In a Fox Business interview aired on April 12:

Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton.  People don’t realize that.  He saved her life, because — I call it Comey won. And I joke about it a little bit.

When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge.  And then he said, she was essentially OK. But he — she wasn’t OK, because she was guilty on every charge.

And in the same interview, Trump hedged as to whether he would retain Comey. He stated that he had confidence in Comey but added “We’ll see what happens. You know, it’s going to be interesting.”

Not surprisingly, the Comey firing has brought calls by Senators Richard Blumenthal and Charles Schumer and other Democrats for the appointment of an “independent special prosecutor” (or, more accurately, special counsel) to head the Russian investigation. Since Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from that investigation, they have called on Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein to take the necessary action. That call, however, overlooks a significant point: Rosenstein’s own role in the Comey firing. If his conduct should appear questionable in any major respect, it would cast a serious cloud over both his willingness and capacity to appoint and supervise a special counsel.

Rosenstein was a respected federal prosecutor whose appointment was relatively uncontroversial and he was confirmed by a 94-6 vote on April 25. It seems unlikely, however, that, having arrived at the Justice Department on April 26, he immediately launched into an evaluation of the FBI Director on his own initiative. Presumably, he was given the assignment by Attorney General Sessions and it would be important to know exactly what the terms of that assignment were. Was he asked to make an objective assessment or was he given the task of finding grounds to support a desired conclusion? That question suggests numerous others.  For example: What data supports Rosenstein’s assertion that damage to the FBI’s reputation over the past year “is deeply troubling to many Department employees and veterans, legislators and citizens”? What did his assessment consist of beyond assembling stale press clippings? With whom did he have contact in making his evaluation? Did he consider whether Comey should be given an opportunity to respond to the criticisms against him?  Did he consider the implications of terminating Comey while the FBI’s Russia investigation is ongoing? Did he discuss the status of the Russia investigation with Comey or anyone else in the FBI?

In order to resolve such questions, and to permit matters to move forward expeditiously, it would clearly be appropriate, and perhaps essential, for Rosenstein to pay a visit Capitol Hill and provide testimony at the earliest opportunity.

*   *    *    *

Trump had nothing to say on the subject yesterday but this morning was on Twitter with some dawn tweets offering a defense of his action that included not only previous criticism of Comey by Democrats, but a personal attack on Senator Blumenthal and retweeted support from the Drudge Report. One can only say, in one of the President’s own favorite Twitter expressions, “Sad.”

13 thoughts on “Blog No. 141. The Comey Firing: Why Now? and What Now?

  • Wow! Convicted without trial nor any indictments. Even the Dempcratic candidate blamed Coney for her loss. I have no knowledge of his motivation to involve himself in the recent election. However, Ms. Clinton was less than enthusiastic about his performance in her very recent comments regarding the loss
    I am a bit surprised that the noted and very experienced attorneys that contribute and or comment in this terrific intellectual exchange are convicting with opinions, and without all the facts.
    Madam LaFarge would be a wonderful unbiased juror.
    Come on!
    Isn’t time to concede the election?
    Ms. Clinton ran a foolish campaign. She misread the mood of the electorate and lost.
    Rather than harping, perhaps if all would concede the loss of Ms Clinton and offer solutions and understanding,rather than sniping at every opportunity, and offer helpful reasoned suggestions,
    we could coalesce and share the magnificence of our country.

    • I am not sure to whom you are referring, but I have not convicted anyone of anything (and regard the impeachment of Trump as unlikely barring the dropping of some very heavy shoes). Nor am I interested in speculating or debating about whether Hillary Clinton would have been elected, as she claims, but for the interference of the Russians and Comey. Finally, I am not interested in debating the merits or demerits of Comey’s handling of the email investigation. All of that is water over the dam What is of interest is Trump’s consistently woeful performance as President and, in this instance, his attempt to sidetrack the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign. That is a serious matter. Comey briefed Congressional leaders privately on his investigation and no one, Republican or Democrat, joined Trump in claiming that it was all a hoax and a waste of taxpayer money.

  • Whew, I can see the Trump derangement syndrome (TDS) is madly on display here. Whereas, Doug’s column is a lot more tame on this issue than I would have otherwise guessed, he must have some respect for Rosenstein’s opinion…is that correct Doug? The rest of you need to go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep, it may bring you back to some sanity or at least in its vicinity. Personally, I think this is another one of Trump’s bright shiny objects he likes to throw out and watch all the suckers chase it.

    Good luck catching it boys.

    • I have very little respect for the Rosenstein memorandum. As made clear in the blog, it was little more than a collection of stale press clippings. Moreover, the evidence is mounting that it was pretextual. If there is any doubt about that, let Rosenstein proceed forthwith to Capitol Hill and testify under oath as to just when and how he made his assessment of Comey’s performance and under what instructions. The Comey firing was the action of a man not only petulant but fearful, perhaps for very good reason, of where Comey’s investigation was leading.

  • The most obvious reason for the Comey firing is to blunt the current investigation into the Trump administration’s possible collusion with Russian officials and to have a chilling effect on any similar probes. But there also may be another, less obvious reason: to eventually reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and eventually bring charges against her. It would take the wind out of the sails of the Trump-Russian probe and possibly drive a stake through its heart. I hate conspiracy theories, but this is one which has some credence in my view.

    In the meantime, I await Donald’s next disaster and can only hope Roger Stetter is right about impeachment. It can’t come soon enough, but I feel like I’m waiting for Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny..

  • It’s a Banum and Bailey world passsing over a cardboard sky and it would not be make believe I you believe in me The problem is this is not a fantasy or a dream but the new normal. As I have said before this will end badly.Are any so called Republican leaders going to speak up, I think not and the slinky will continue on it’s downward path until it crashes.

  • Trump is trying desperately to kill any investigation that would prove he colluded with Russia to steal the presidential election. Like Nixon, he fired the lead investigator of his possible wrongdoing.

    Trump’s purported justification for firing the FBI director James Comey — that he botched last year’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her term as Secretary of State — is obviouusly false.

    Let’s not forget that the Trump is probably guilty, his presidential campaign team stacked with Russian spies and
    foreign agents, Or that his empire is largely built on deals with Russian oligarchs and money launderers.

    It’s only a matter of time before he is impeached or hounded out of office by public opinion. And, boy, will I feel relieved.

    • Right on, Roger! It can’t happen soon enough! But it won’t happen fast enough to prevent a lot of other people, and much of the current credibility of our governmental system, from going down with him. Sad indeed!

    • Roger (and Bill Hessell) – although i share your disgust at and frustration with the Trump regime, consider the consequence of impeachment: Mike Pence!!! Do we really want this equally-mendacious charlatan in the oval office?

      • While Pence would provide, Ken, a real problem for many of us opposed to his arch-conservative political leanings, he is not erratic, impulsive, uninformed concerning governmental matters, or, as some psychoanalysists consider Trump, a “malignant narcissist”. Based on the first three plus months, wouldn’t four years of Trump be just too much?

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