Wednesday 10 May 2017 – Donald Trump sacks the FBI Director James Comey without warning, raising suspicion over his reasoning for doing so

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In a surprise move President Trump fired the Director of the FBI last night, and didn’t give him any notice. The President defended his decision which, as President, he the absolute right to do, by saying he fired Comey because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation last year!  Does anyone believe that? James Comey’s announcement in the run-up to the election in November that the FBI were investigating Mrs Clinton over her use of private email servers to store and send State-related emails was a huge bonus for the Trump campaign. Donald Trump has praised Mr Comey since for investigating Mrs Clinton, saying that it had “taken guts” and that the investigation “brought back his reputation.” . Some suggest that the announcement  by Comey swung the election towards Trump, so no wonder Trump was happy with him.  Whether Comey was instrumental in the Trump victory  will never be known for sure but it did harm the Clinton campaign and benefited the Trump campaign. So why would Donald Trump, nearly four months after his inauguration, suddenly decide to sack him for the Clinton investigation?  Logic would suggest that Trump has taken out the man who has moved on from investigating Hillary Clinton to investigating the Trump administration and the campaign last year and the extent of their  connections with Russia.  Some believe that Trump has acted now because the FBI’s investigations into his campaign’s links to Moscow are getting close to the President himself. The Senate Intelligence Committee is also investigating, although no conclusions have yet been announced. The Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer doesn’t believe this is a coincidence:

 

“Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?

 

“This does not seem to be a coincidence.”

 

If President Trump wished to dismiss Comey over the Clinton investigation the time would have been during his transition period when it is normal for President-elects to announce such changes.  The President, commenting today on Comey’s dismissal, said:

 

“James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI,

 

“Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”

 

Shortly after making these comments the President met the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov – who joked about Coney’s dismissal.  Mr Comey’s sacking is only the second time a FBI Director has been fired in the history of the organisation.  The President sent a note to Mr Comey firing him, although he only received the note after seeing news of his own firing on television.  In his note, the President wrote:

 

“I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and  Deputy Attorney General of  the United States recommending  your dismissal as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and  removed from office, effective immediately.

 

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I never nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

 

“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.

 

“I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavours.”

 

Mr Comey, who is 56, has been Director of the FBI for three-and-a-half years. When he saw the news of his sacking on television he was addressing  FBI agents in Los Angeles and thought it was a prank, laughing at it. However, it was all too real and soon he got the note from the President. In the note Mr Trump said that he agreed with the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who had told the President that Mr Comey was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”  Mr Rosenstein in his memo  also said that the Department of Justice was “committed to a high level of discipline, integrity, and the rule of law” and that a “fresh start was needed.”

 

The Deputy Attorney said he “cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgement that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.” Mr Rosenstein seems to think that Comey’s mistake was not to prosecute Mrs Clinton, and then blamed him for“gratuitously” releasing “derogatory information” about Mrs Clinton – something the Trump campaign and Republicans jumped on and exploited at the time. Click HERE to read Mr Rosenstein’s full memo.

 

The Democrats are outraged by the sacking and simply don’t believe the reasoning Mr Trump has given for it. They are  calling for action and even a Special Prosecutor. However, the Republicans are insisting it has nothing to do with Russia and that the Democrats are being hypocritical as many of them were condemning Mr Comey when he was investigating Mrs Clinton and, in particular, when he announced that Mrs Clinton was being investigated. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said: “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination.” A BBC World Service reporter suggested it was suspicious timing and convenient reasoning. Justin Amash, a Michigan congressman said: “My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia,” while Nebraska Senator, and Trump critic, Ben Sasse remarked that: “the timing of the firing is troubling.” Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, said:  “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing.  I just can’t do it.”

 

The President’s decision to fire Mr Comey is being compared to Richard Nixon’s dismissal in 1973 of a special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was investigating the Watergate break-in and cover-up. President Nixon later admitted that he was aware of the cover-up when he fired the special prosecutor and tried to halt the FBI investigation into it. The rest is history and the subsequent resignation of President Nixon rocked the nation.  It seems unlikely that Donald Trump will follow suit. Nixon’s special prosecutor was an independent appointee, whereas Comey is appointed by the President and the President has the absolute right to fire him whenever he chooses.  Whether Mr Trump is aware of alleged links with Russia is for the FBI and Senate Intelligence Committee to determine. The investigations will of course continue. Some are even suggesting that the firing of Comey could backfire on Trump as it may make him enemies in the FBI and also raises further suspicion that he he trying to cover up the investigation as it was getting close to the truth. Should an investigation show that the President directly has links with Russia then the consequences of that may be something completely different. Mr Trump’s timing for firing James Comey is certainly deeply suspicious, but not enough to impeach him. People’s ability to trust the President, however, has been deeply damaged not only by today’s events but by his words and actions since becoming President.

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Some more reaction

 

A statement from the White House said of the firing: “Today, President Donald J Trump informed FBI director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office. President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and attorney general Jeff Sessions.” Here are some reactions to the decision:

 

Republican Senator Bob Portman wants a “fuller explanation regarding the President’s timing,” and added:

 

“I want to thank Director Comey for his service to our country. Regardless of his handling of the Clinton email matter during the presidential election last year — for which both parties had questions and concerns — he has always done what he believed was in the best interest of the country. Given the timing and circumstances of the decision, I believe the White House should provide a fuller explanation regarding the president’s rationale. The American people must have faith in a strong, independent FBI. I’m concerned about eroding trust in this premier law enforcement agency. It is important that whoever is nominated to succeed Director Comey is a highly-qualified and respected leader who will provide a fresh start for the bureau.”

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, speaking on the floor of the Senate, said he opposes the idea of a special prosecutor and criticised the Democrats for their response:

 

“So what we have now, Mr. President, is our Democratic colleagues complaining about the removal of an FBI Director whom they themselves repeatedly and sharply criticized, by a man, Rod Rosenstein, whom they repeatedly and effusively praised — when Mr. Rosenstein recommended Mr. Comey’s removal for many of the very reasons they have complained about.

 

“Two investigations are currently ongoing: the Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of Russian active measures and intelligence activities, and the FBI investigation disclosed by Director Comey. Today we will no doubt hear calls for a new investigation which could only serve to impede the current work being done to not only discover what the Russians may have done, but also to let this body and the national security community to develop the countermeasures and warfighting doctrine to see that it doesn’t occur again. Partisan calls should not delay the considerable work of Chairman Burr and Vice Chairman Warner — too much is at stake.

 

“Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein was just confirmed on a bipartisan basis — 94 to 6 — and that sort of fair consideration should continue when the Senate receives an FBI Director nominee. As I said yesterday, once the Senate receives a nomination to fill this position, we will all look forward to a full, fair, and timely confirmation process. This is a critical role that is particularly important as our country continues to face serious threats at home and abroad.”

 

Senator Ted Cruz believes Mr Comey had to go, echoing Mr Rosenstein’s memo:

 

“The Director of the FBI needs to be above reproach, with an unquestioned reputation for fairness and impartiality. Unfortunately, Mr. Comey had lost the confidence of both Republicans and Democrats, and, frankly, the American people. The next Director needs to be someone of the utmost integrity who can successfully restore the public’s confidence and lead the men and women of the FBI who selflessly serve and defend our great nation.”

 

Republican Senator, and former Presidential candidate, John McCain, remarked:

 

“When you fire probably arguably the most respected person in America, you better have a very good explanation, and so far I haven’t seen that.”

 

“On the explanation that Comey mishandled the Clinton emails inquiry: I don’t believe that that is sufficient rationale for removing the director of the FBI”:

 

Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, of Virginia, also called for an independent investigation:

 

“Both Democrats and Republican attacked the FBI Director at various times for various reasons and  called for his ousting. However, I can’t defend or explain tonight’s  actions  or timing of the firing of the FBI Director James Comey. The FBI investigation into the Russian impact on the 2016 election must continue. There must be an independent investigation that the American people can trust.”

 

Adam Schiff, the Democrat ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said:

 

“The same president who has called the investigation into the Russian hacking of our democracy and the potential complicity of his campaign a ‘fake’ cannot pretend to have made such a decision uninfluenced by his concerns over Comey’s continued involvement in the investigation. It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed.”

 

Bob Casey, a Republican Senator from Pennsylvania, said:

 

“This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation … this investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.”

 

Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Anthony Romero, said:

 

“The independence of the FBI director is meant to ensure that the president does not operate above the law. For President Trump to fire the man responsible for investigating his own campaign’s ties to the Russians imperils that fundamental principle.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway – returning to the spotlight after a noticeable absence from the Washington scene – predictably defended Trump, saying that his decision “had nothing to do with Russia.” Again, does anyone believe Ms Conway? Speaking to Anderson Cooper on CNN:

 

“This has nothing to do with Russia.

 

“Somebody must be getting $50 every time [Russia] is said on TV… [This] has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the President’s confidence and can faithfully execute his duties.”

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Political cartoonists Ben Jennings (The Guardian) and Dave Brown (The Independent) going for a similar theme today, and below Steve Bell’s cartoon from The Guardian (15 May)

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