At one point or another during the past year, Republicans and Democrats have both defended FBI Director James Comey and excoriated him — just never at the same time. So what’ll it be now that this has happened?
The guess here is it’ll be one more log on the bonfire built by those convinced they can undermine the credibility of the Trump presidency and possibly even force him out of the White House — even though just hours earlier, many of those same people were complaining that Comey had once again betrayed the bias or hostility toward Hillary Clinton that led him to submarine her campaign days before the election. Having charged him with using an investigation to interfere with the political process, they will now turn around and accuse Trump of playing politics to interfere with investigations into him. That may explain why Trump seemed to pre-empt such accusations in his letter notifying Comey of his firing (note the second paragraph):
Trump’s letter refers to letters from the attorney general and deputy attorney general. The latter can be viewed here:
That letter is a pretty thorough denunciation of Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — from his July press conference announcing the FBI would not recommend her for prosecution, to his late October letter revealing the investigation had been re-opened, and his election eve missive saying, eh, forget about what I said a few days ago, we’re all good. The original misjudgment took place in July, and while one might argue that in light of that mistake Comey had less latitude to remain silent about re-opening the probe, the better course of action would have been to remain quiet all along. If Clinton didn’t like the lack of closure that would have left her campaign, perhaps she would have preferred that to the way it played out. But regardless of what she preferred, it was, all around, the wrong way for Comey to proceed.
In a less polarized time, Comey’s firing might be seen by all sides as a necessary, if somewhat unfortunate, reset after his regrettable series of actions and statements. (Indeed, it’s easy to imagine Clinton, had she been elected, relieving him of his duties — and being criticized by the right for doing so out of spite. Or maybe keeping him — and being criticized for rewarding him for not prosecuting her.)
I rather doubt that’s what we’ll get here …
UPDATE at 10:01 p.m.:
This just in from CNN:
“Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
“The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
“The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.”
This certainly looks bad, although it’s worth noting these were subpoenas, not indictments — and subpoenas were also issued in the case of Clinton’s emails, with no resulting indictments.
One question that arose when news broke of Comey’s firing was about the timing. The justification for Comey’s firing was his mishandling of the Clinton investigation. But we knew about that before we knew who the next president would be. Fair or not, it will be hard to persuade many people it’s just a coincidence that Trump finally got around to firing Comey after these subpoenas were issued. The fact that Trump referred in his termination letter to Comey’s assurances “on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation” makes it appear he was at least thinking about how this would look when the public found out about this latest step in the investigation.
That said, an investigation does not stop because the director of the agency is canned. And the existence of this investigation is too well-known at this point for it to simply disappear or peter out. Not to mention that a number of Republicans in the House and the Senate are already on record noting skepticism about the timing of Comey’s dismissal.
Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor, but that’s barking up the wrong tree. What is needed is an independent director of the FBI who, unlike Comey, isn’t hamstrung by his past ham-handedness. Yes, presidential appointments need a mere majority in Senate these days, but it would only take three Republican holdouts to deny that. If Trump is certain that he, personally, is in no danger of a rigorous FBI investigation, he should be willing to name a director who is seen as capable of carrying out just that. And Republican senators should be willing to demand just that. Let’s see what Trump does here.