As of late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has fired the FBI Director James Comey. He says it was on the recommendation of the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and that it was based on mistakes Comey made in his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server and classified information.
The president's letter firing Comey included a letter of recommendation from the Justice Department, which was written by Rosenstein. In addition to general comments about needing new leadership to restore trust in the department, it cited specific actions by Comey that have undermined trust in his leadership:
1. Comey's announcement last July that the Clinton case was closed and that there would be no indictment. It is not the FBI that decides whether charges will be brought. That is the prerogative of the Justice Department prosecutors. It is also against FBI procedure to hold a press conference to announce the status of an investigation.
2. Comey's letter to Congress on October 28th, 2016 to inform that he was re-opening the case because new material (which had not yet been examined) had been found that might be relevant. Of course, this was immediately leaked by Republicans just 11 days before the election -- and threw the campaign process into turmoil. Then just a two days before the election, Comey made another announcement that investigation of the emails had not revealed anything new of consequence and that nothing had changed the decision not to seek an indictment of Clinton. A group of former FBI directors and officials sent a letter of disapproval of these actions. Clinton blamed Comey, in part, for her loss of the election.
3. Comey's testimony to Congress last week included some errors of fact stated by Comey, again concerning those emails, that had to be corrected later.
All of this is sufficient reason to remove Comey as head of the FBI. And yet, it may not be the real reason. It is so typical of Trump's operating mode: wave some shiny object in front of people to distract from your real motive.
Most recent example of this: the firing of Sally Yates on Jan 30, 2017 (see ShrinkRap on 5/9/17), which Trump said was because she refused to defend his Muslim travel ban; but in fact the firing came four days after Yates warned the White House about Michael Flynn's Russian compromise.
So what might be the real reason for firing James Comey?
He is overseeing the FBI's investigation of the ties and possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. That is what is chilling and a reminder of Nixon's "Saturday night massacre."
As Nicole Wallace just pointed out on MSNBC, it's the Democrats who should be happy about this, because it vindicates those who felt Comey's public revelations hurt Hillary Clinton's election chances. And yet it is the Senate Democrats whose initial comments about this firing run along the line of "shocking" and "chilling."
They are obviously thinking about the implications of a president, whose administration is under investigation by the FBI, firing the Director who is overseeing that investigation. And what are we to make of this sentence from the president's letter to Comey:
"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
In one sentence, he links the question of himself being investigated and the decision to fire Comey. Is that just Trump being Trump -- everything always has to be about him? Or should we take this as subtle evidence of the link in reality?
I hear the mounting drumbeats for an independent special prosecutor. So . . . stay tuned.