Opinion: If there’s a crisis in Comey’s firing, it’s not a constitutional one

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The fallout from President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey continues, and the most damning detail so far isn’t about the timing of this move vis-a-vis the bureau’s investigation of Michael Flynn. It’s that the White House wasn’t at all prepared for the blowback it got once Comey’s dismissal was revealed.

Democrats and much of the media want to focus on the first subject. And indeed, as I wrote late last night, it doesn’t at all look good that Trump fired Comey after a grand jury issued subpoenas — to reiterate, not indictments — in the Flynn investigation. But to speak of this as a “constitutional crisis” or some kind of dangerous moment is not just a tell by those who, perversely, might just want the Trump presidency to spark such a crisis and, eventually, his removal from office. It’s an inapt description of what’s really going on here.

First things first: The director of the FBI works in the Department of Justice, which is an agency of the executive branch, which is headed by the president. As such, the president is well within his constitutional authority to fire the director of the FBI. It is a sign of the insanity of our current political environment that this needs to be said, but there it is. (I might add, Comey’s removal with no nominee to replace him waiting in the wings — more on that in a moment — elevates as acting director a man who Trump and many of his supporters view as no friend of the president.)

Second: While the foregoing is true, it is also true that Congress is charged with overseeing agencies like the FBI as a check against their power. To the extent presidents from both parties have sought to expand executive power, the blame largely lies with legislators from both parties letting them get away with it. There has never been a better time for Congress to rectify this situation. And the fact that (so far) five Republican senators have voiced skepticism about the timing and rationale for Trump’s firing of Comey suggests they may be prepared to take that oversight role seriously. That includes not only insisting on a replacement at the FBI whose credentials and independence are beyond question — Merrick Garland, anyone? — but, in the meantime, keeping close tabs on how Comey’s firing is affecting existing investigations and any new ones that may become necessary. If just three of those five Republicans hold their ground, they and Senate Democrats have enough votes to deny Trump his new nominee and anything else they deem necessary to restore and uphold the FBI’s credibility. Comey’s firing need not derail any investigation into Trump’s campaign or any of his associates, if Congress is willing to do its duty.

Speaking of the FBI’s credibility, folks on both sides of the political spectrum need to take a deep breath and acknowledge it had suffered greatly in the final months of Comey’s tenure. It suffered in the eyes of Republicans when Comey took the extraordinary steps of 1) holding a press conference to discuss the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton and 2) deciding himself that there would be no charges against her (which is the job for a prosecutor, not a law-enforcement official like Comey). It suffered in the eyes of Democrats when Comey announced in late October he had re-opened the Clinton probe, and then reversed himself two days before the election, and again this week when he erred fairly egregiously in his testimony about the episode before the Senate. Reasonable people on both sides should be able to look at all that and conclude Comey was no longer a credible leader for an agency that vitally needs credibility, and that his dismissal can be justified quite apart from the very legitimate questions about timing and repercussions and replacing him.

***

So now we come to the part about preparation. By all accounts, the White House mismanaged the particulars of Comey’s dismissal in just about every imaginable way. Trump reportedly expected it to be viewed as a “win-win” and not with such extreme skepticism. Even some high-level administration officials didn’t know it was coming, and no communications strategy was ready to help explain the why and when of the decision. Unlike the last time a president fired an FBI director (Bill Clinton axing William Sessions in 1993), it appears there’s no replacement ready to be named the next day. Comey was so caught off-guard by the move that, while speaking to FBI agents in Los Angeles, his first reaction was to dismiss it as a joke. Worse was the fact Comey was on the other side of the country when he was fired — leading to an O.J. Simpson-like televising of his attempt to navigate Los Angeles’ crowded freeways — and wasn’t told of his dismissal personally. The fact that notification of his firing went instead by hand delivery to FBI headquarters, when Comey wasn’t even there, is just one more sign of mismanagement.

These mistakes were not made necessary by time pressures. The only possible rationale for Trump’s choosing Tuesday as the day to fire Comey was the fact that was the date on the memo by the deputy attorney general outlining Comey’s missteps in the Clinton investigation. But that’s not a good reason to move ahead the same day rather than waiting for Comey to return to Washington.

As a result, if Trump were truly trying to regain control of the narrative over the FBI’s Russia investigation, as some reports have it, he has accomplished the exact opposite. Just like with his insistence on continuing to use social media no matter what problems it might create for him, Trump too often is his own worst enemy.

The crisis here, if such exists, is one of competence, not constitutionality.

Reader Comments 0

298 comments
MarkVV
MarkVV

Acting F.B.I. director contradicts White House.

Mr. McCabe rejected the White House’s assertion that Mr. Comey had lost the backing of rank-and-file F.B.I. agents, a pointed rebuke of what had been one of the president’s main defenses for the move.

 “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the F.B.I. and still does to this day,” Mr. McCabe said at the hearing.

 “The vast majority of F.B.I. employees enjoyed a deep and positive connection to Director Comey,” he added.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/us/politics/live-briefing-james-comey-andrew-mccabe.html?_r=0

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@MarkVV  Of course you left out that he acknowledged what was reported at the time that many agents were upset about Comey's decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton, and were very vocal about their displeasure.

MarkVV
MarkVV

Alberto Gonzales, attorney general, 2005-2007 (George W. Bush)

“I don’t know if it in fact happened. It’s hard for me to think of a situation where it might be appropriate,” Gonzales said. He said that, if asked by the president about such a probe, the best response would be: “I can’t answer that question and it would be wise for us to not have this discussion.” He said that because the investigation had not been completed, “how would he [Comey] know where he would end up with the investigation?”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/05/10/was-it-appropriate-for-trump-and-comey-to-discuss-whether-trump-was-under-investigation/?utm_term=.cb9329d61876

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@MarkVV  Gonzales was answering a hypothetical scenario with him, Gonzales being the FBI Director and the assumption that Trump was indeed being investigated. As its been stated by senior officials there is no evidence of collusion. If there's no base evidence there can't be justification to investigate an individual. You lib/progs are grasping at straws.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@SGTGrit @MarkVV Wrong as usual. There is no stated assumption that "Trump was indeed investigated."

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@AndyManUSA#45


The next thing he needs to do is to ram through 141 new federal judges that are strict constitutionalists to fill all those vacancies. Now that we have the numbers ram em through! 

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@AndyManUSA#45


I wonder what non-sense they will say once the review comes back and verdict is there was no voter fraud.


Obama's fault.

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@McGarnagle @AndyManUSA#45


If they come back and there is no voter fraud then we will have simply affirmed faith in our election system and the Dems can say -"See. We told you there was no fraud." and gloat about it. That's a small price to pay for cons if it means knowing that there is no voter fraud. 


While they are at it hopefully they'll get some voter registration rolls cleaned up and maybe get the dead people off of them. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@McGarnagle @Doom a classical liberal @AndyManUSA#45


If he's wrong he's wrong and the results of the investigation will prove it. Who cares if he gets exposed as being wrong? Certainly wouldn't be the first time he's wrong about something. 


And why would anyone be opposed to finding out the truth one way or another as to how much, if any, voter fraud is really out there? After all, we all want fair and clean elections free of voter fraud, right?

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@McGarnagle @AndyManUSA#45  We already know there's been incidents of voter fraud and attempted voter fraud we just don't know the extent of it or if it had any significant effect.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@Doom a classical liberal @McGarnagle @AndyManUSA#45


I think we are all for fair and clean elections. My point is Trump will not concede his voter fraud claim so easily. Recall Trump said Obama wiretap him then after it became obvious he didn't, He still stands by the claim.


I understand you view Trump as a careful leader who is quick to admit fault. History tells us otherwise.

McGarnagle
McGarnagle

@SGTGrit @McGarnagle @AndyManUSA#45


Trump claim in the millions. Or hundreds of thousands. That kind of voter fraud is significant. Trump has come to that conclusion and now he is searching for the cause. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

Prog lie of the year- Trump himself is under investigation. 


Prog lying strategy 101. Take a big lie and scream it long enough, loud enough, and repeatedly and eventually most progs will come to accept as truth.  

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Doom a classical liberal  Yeah it cascades down hill to the lower tier like Bookman, who parrots what he's told to write on his opinion blog and then he passes it down to the lowest level like the those on the AJC blogs.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@Eye wonder @Doom a classical liberal  Well there must be evidence to justify a personal investigation of an individual and all the senior people who've been involved in this Russian meddling investigation have stated that there's no evidence of Trump, colluding with the Russians.

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

There are many stories flying around about the Trump administrations firing of James Comey. The most absurd is the Democrats false narrative about Trump, being under personal investigation by the FBI for colluding with the Russians. These absurd statements aren't just circulating among the far-left Democrat rank and file that parrot the propaganda from their favorite internet left wing media conduits but also from senior leadership within the Democrat party.

MarkVV
MarkVV

@AndyManUSA#45 It was inappropriate for the President to ask if he was under the investigation, and it would have been inappropriate for the FBI Director to answer. It only demonstrates Trump's disregard for the law.

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@MarkVV @AndyManUSA#45


Disregard of the law? Why, that reminds me of a former Harvard constitutional law perfesser turned potus who did illegal recess appointments before being pummeled 9-0 by the scotus on the illegality of his recess appointments. I'm sorry. What were you saying about disregard for the law?

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

To Readers:  DO NOT FORGET THAT DONALD TRUMP IS A BUSINESSMAN, NOT A PATRIOT TO ANYTHING BUT MONEY-MAKING.


Let it be awhile before we, again, glorify business leaders or corporations controlling governmental institutions.  That was why Jefferson stood strong against Hamilton.  Government is there to do more than to make people rich.  It is there to make them free, self-governing, and equal under the law.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@MaryElizabethSings

I'm not sure it is fair to even call him a "businessman." I would submit there is not a single Fortune 500 company that would have him as CEO. Indeed, they probably wouldn't let him anywhere near their C-suites except to sweep the floors.

Trump is nothing more than a spoiled rich kid brat turned real estate developer turn reality TV star. (And scumsucking POS, but I digress.)

SGTGrit
SGTGrit

@MaryElizabethSings  Well now that's a bit silly. You're saying that being a business professional and being a patriot are mutually exclusive.

AndyManUSA#45
AndyManUSA#45

@Eye wonder @MaryElizabethSings I didn't  know Trump was getting $400,000 per speech* from Big Business, the things we learn from you rat fascists are, uh, amazing.


*obozo, of course. Notice how that doesn't concern the fascists at all?

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@MaryElizabethSings


Corporations control the gubment? Ma'am, if that were true then we wouldn't have the highest or 2nd highest corporate tax rate on Earth. Geez. 


"It is there to make them free, self-governing, and equal under the law."


Yep. And the bigger and more intrusive  gubment is the less free, the less self-governing, and the less equal individual citizens are under the law. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@AndyManUSA#45 @Eye wonder @MaryElizabethSings

Those must be some strong drugs you're on, IReport. You went straight from Trump as CEO to Obama as paid speaker. I hope you're not also driving in the wrong lane as you type. (Do they even give residents in your facility keys to the cars?)

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Eye wonder @Doom a classical liberal @MaryElizabethSings


And when did I ever say that just because we have the 2nd highest corporate tax rate that some large companies don't get around it with various tax loopholes and an army of accountants and tax lawyers to arrive at a much lower effective rate? Go on, Eyesore, check your bag of archived con quotes and see if you got anything on me on this point. 

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

@Doom a classical liberal @Eye wonder @MaryElizabethSings

That was the clear implication of the single paragraph you posted on the subject. To wit:


Corporations control the gubment? Ma'am, if that were true then we wouldn't have the highest or 2nd highest corporate tax rate on Earth. Geez. 


If you suggest otherwise, then, sir, with respect, you are either being disingenuous, deliberately deceptive, downright obtuse, or flat out stupid.  I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say "disingenuous."

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Doom a classical liberal @Eye wonder @MaryElizabethSings


Anyone can become a president of the caliber of Abraham Lincoln, huh?  "Easy Peasy" on that, also, I guess? 


It is simply a matter of one's priorities.  Wisdom or money.  Some have both, but wisdom often comes without money and with the poor, as with Jesus and Mother Theresa, but those who are billionaires often lack wisdom of the kind Lincoln grew to have.  That kind of wisdom takes historical vision of the highest order, not the ephemeral thinking of how one can make a fast buck, which is how the minds of most billionaires work, with the exception of a few like Ted Turner.

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@Eye wonder @Doom a classical liberal @MaryElizabethSings


You should work on 2 things sir- your mind reading ability and understanding of the English language. 


But let me help ya out there, pardner. Every corp would benefit from a lower corporate tax rate and if corps really did control the govt they would have a lower corporate rate to begin with. The common sense of this statement should be self evident to most people. And then there are people like you for which common sense is not a reliant characteristic. 


Furthermore, if corps really controlled the gubment they could get a lower corp rate, keep available tax loopholes, and arrive at an even lower effective tax rate than they arrive at nowadays. But again. That appears to be just too much common sense for some folks. 

Doom a classical liberal
Doom a classical liberal

@MaryElizabethSings @Doom a classical liberal @Eye wonder


"Anyone can become a president of the caliber of Abraham Lincoln, huh?  "Easy Peasy" on that, also, I guess?"


Stated by no one but you. 


"Some have both, but wisdom often comes without money and with the poor"


Sorry, Mary E. but being poor is not causation for wisdom. If it were we would have a ton of wise poor people. Most poor people are poor due to unwise choices in life- not because of wise choices. 


" but those who are billionaires often lack wisdom of the kind Lincoln grew to have."


That would be nothing more than your opinion based on exactly nothing more than your rosy opinion. 


" That kind of wisdom takes historical vision of the highest order,"


Historical vision? History is "visionary". Having vision denotes looking forward- not backward. So your comment, as usual, makes no sense. Now had you said wisdom honed by historical knowledge you would have made sense. But because you're going off in platitudes yet again you make no sense. 


" not how one can make a fast buck, which is how the minds of most billionaires work,"


Mary E's disdain of wealthy people again. Becoming a billionaire usually takes years and years and years of building a business empire unless you strike it rich quick with a great internet idea. That would hardly coincide with making a fast buck. Clearly, you didn't think your hatefulness through before posting it. 


" with the exception of a few like Ted Turner."


Aaaah. So the one billionaire who agrees with Mary E  philosophically just happens to be the one who wasn't interested in "a fast buck". Funny how that works. 

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

I did not write that, SGTGrit. In fact, I went out of my way to break up that kind of stereotypical thinking in dichotomies. Please reread my actual words: "Some have both . . . "