So Donald Trump has sacked Jim Comey.
Before speculating on why Trump took this rather extraordinary step, we might pause for a minute to reflect on the political cost of making this move now.
Comey just revealed recently that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. Mike Flynn was up to his eyeballs in that messtoid. Sally Yates testified on Monday that whatever Mike Flynn was up to (that information is classified) posed a major security concern — that Trump et al ignored for several weeks. In other words, hiring and keeping Flynn on despite advice not to do so, was a BIG deal. And this is just part of a broader investigation that Comey
is was in the middle of. Firing Comey just after this came out smells very, very bad. The political fallout will be significant.
Trump had to know this. Thus, it is not a huge stretch to conclude that Trump must have needed to fire Comey despite the expected fallout. He must have had a damned good reason – or we must conclude that the dude has lost his marbles.
So what was that damned good reason? The stated reason is that Comey should not have gone public about the Clinton email investigation. I would agree that Comey screwed this up. But this is old news. Why act on this now? I am not sure that I get that. And there is a bigger problem. Comey went public about the Clinton investigation under pressure from republicans in congress. In other words, Trump’s own party is at least partially to blame for the whole fiasco. Using this to justify canning Comey throws mud on the party.
So a reasonable person might conclude that the stated reason for canning Comey was not strong enough. And as I said above, this is mucho bad news for Trump. It leaves Trump et al wide open to accusations that the real reason is, in fact, to quash the FBI’s investigation of Trump et al. You hear that already. For example
Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, suggested Comey’s firing could amount to interference with the FBI’s Russia investigation.
“The decision by a President whose campaign associates are under investigation by the FBI for collusion with Russia to fire the man overseeing that investigation, upon the recommendation of an Attorney General who has recused himself from that investigation, raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” Schiff wrote in a statement.
So how will congressional republicans react? Their initial reaction will be most likely to continue saying that this is much to do about nothing. And if the only issue were Russian hacking, they might get away with this. But that myth was exploded a while back. There is a growing concern that national security has been put at risk. And if that concern continues to grow, republican obstruction of investigations starts smelling bad.
Regardless of whom Trump appoints to replace Comey, the pressure on congressional republicans to distance themselves from Trump has just been ratcheted up. They are already reeling from the fallout over the silly House bill on health care. As with the above, the political problem is as much about substance as it is about credibility. And they are losing credibility fast.
Quick Follow – The media has exploded with commentary about the firing. Vox gets to the point in this piece, asking whether Comey’s firing will be the “turning point” in this scandal – meaning the beginning of the end for Trump. It is too early to tell. But it is not too early to tell that the dems now have an excellent chance of taking back the House in 2018.
2d Quick Follow – As I think about this, a second train of thought is starting to look more plausible about why Trump acted now. It could be that Sessions made the recommendation and Trump approved it simply because they wanted to dump Comey. In other words, they did it without thinking through the ramifications or they just didn’t care. That means that they are politically tone deaf or that they believe no one in Washington can stand up to them. The trappings of power have gone to their heads. So Trump either has something to hide and fired Comey in a desperate attempt to keep it hidden and/or Trump believes he can walk on water away from the scandal. Take your pick.
3rd Quick Follow – From BI
The New York Times is reporting that White House officials had been working on firing Comey for days and had instructed Attorney General Jeff Sessions to come up with a pretext for doing so. That the administration chose a pretext so obviously pretextual is just a screw-you to anyone who expects them to offer an explanation other than that they wish to shut down investigations that are inconvenient to the White House and prioritize a leak-hunt instead.
And there is this quote from Dave Frum
“Trump is impulsive and arrogant. His narcissistic ego needs to believe he won a great electoral victory by his own exertions, not that he was tipped into office by a lucky foreign espionage operation. He could well resent the search for truth, even without being particularly guilty of anything heinously bad. But we all now must take seriously the heightened possibility of guilt, either personal or on the part of people near him—and of guilt of some of the very worst imaginable crimes in the political lexicon.”
As I argued, Trump needed a big reason to justify firing Comey. He didn’t offer one and is stuck with the appearance that he wants to obstruct justice. That appearance will not go away. It is the new storyline.
4th Quick Follow – If we assume for a moment that Trump fired Comey to quash the FBI investigation of his campaign’s Russia ties, will the firing have this effect?
The answer is probably not. The FBI is a bureaucracy, not a prosecutor’s office. That bureaucracy will now run on auto-pilot until a new director is appointed, and the auto-pilot is highly likely to include continuing the investigation. The FBI staff involved also know now that they may be racing against time. So they have some incentive to come up with a smoking gun that justifies going further before a new director can be appointed and confirmed in the senate. So the investigation might be sped up, and/or key facts leaked. Moreover, there is no guarantee that a new director would agree to put the kibosh on the investigation. And finally, there are already calls for a special prosecutor to be appointed that would make all of this moot. So you have to scratch your head on this one. The reason offered to fire Comey isn’t going to fly. The odds of the ulterior motive working are low. WTF? Are we dealing with nefarious and stupid people here?
5th quick follow – Assuming that the Trump/Russia investigations are not going away, what should we be looking for? BI offers a peek at six big questions that are pending. Here is the list
- Does Trump himself have business ties to Russia that could pose a conflict of interest in dealings with Putin?
- How far and deep to Trump associates’ ties to Russia go?
- Why did late 2015 contacts between Trump associates and Russia raise flags for European intelligence agencies
- Why the 18-day delay in firing Flynn?
- How reliable is the Dossier?
- Why did a Russian bank with Putin ties try to reach the Trump Organization during the campaign?
Getting answers to the above questions is a starting point.
6th Quick Follow – Rachel Maddow made a very good point. Jeff Sessions had recused himself from any matter involving the Hillary Clinton campaign. Sessions now signed off on the recommendation to fire Jim Comey based on Comey’s actions with respect to the Hillary Clinton campaign. Hmmm …. why was Sessions involved? Good question.