Image by the Federal Bureau of Investigation via Flickr / Public Domain
On May 9, Trump released James B. Comey from his position as the Acting Director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This was the first time in 24 years that a U.S. FBI director has been fired, and only the second time in U.S history.
Less than two months prior, Comey made headlines with the announcement of an ongoing FBI investigation interested in exposing any ties between Trump’s presidential campaign and support from Russia. Presumably, this is the backdrop against which Trump chose to preface his notice to fire Comey. Below features the punchline of the letter sent by Trump:
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.
The “judgment” references recommendations from both the U.S. Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions, respectively. Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s spokeswoman, used these recommendation as a defense against accusations that Trump fired Comey in response to the investigation. In an interview with CNN Conway claimed Trump’s decision had “nothing to do with Russia.” Instead, she accredits a letter written by Rosenstein. The letter condones Comey as FBI director because of his misconduct in the agency along with his inappropriate action taken to end the Clinton email investigation in July.
Contrary to Rosenstein’s letter, the new acting director of the agency, Andrew G. McCabe, reported that Comey shares “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” implying that the concern Rosenstein brings up is illegitimate and certainly not criteria which should have been used to make a decision as heavy as firing the director.
Further, according to Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize winner and co-founder of the Intercept, merely the suggestion that Trump’s decision to fire Comey was influenced by his disappointment in the Clinton email investigation is “an insult to everyone’s intelligence.” On the campaign trail in October Trump had praised Comey for his decision to re-open the email investigation.
Additionally, Greenwald is skeptical of the email investigation being a legitimate decision factor, arguing that this concern should have been expressed by Trump six months ago when the incident took place. The convenient surfacing of concern now depicts Trump’s move to fire Comey as a disingenuous cover up obscuring the real reason behind his decision. Republican Senator of Arizona, Jeff Flake, expressed similar distrust, posting to Twitter that there was no acceptable rationale for the timing of Trump’s firing. Others find fault merely with Trump’s rhetoric in the fire letter, which portrays Trump as desperate to seek absolution from the investigation. Republican Senator of Michigan, Justin Amash, called this “bizarre.”
Moreover, during an interview with NBC news, just 2 days after Comey was fired, Trump admitted that he would have made the decision to fire Comey regardless of recommendation because the “Russia thing” appeared to be a made-up story. Trump’s remarks reveal his concern regarding the FBI investigation and blatantly contradict Conway’s statement that the decision was made independent of any unease regarding the investigation. Without a doubt, Trump made the decision to fire Comey based off of his own interest in hindering Russia probe.
For many (see The Atlantic, John McCain, and Politico), Trump’s action draw large parallels to the Watergate scandal which eventually lead to Richard Nixon’s impeachment in 1974. In an interview featured on DemocracyNow, Liz Holtzman, who served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach Nixon, expressed that Trump is “deep into Watergate territory.” In terms of impeaching Trump, a conversation which has garnered increasing attention as of late, Holtzman shares that she believes it is a possibility, though it will take time. According to Holtzman, Nixon’s impeachment was made possible because the Republicans of the House Judiciary Committee were able to put “country above party” and uphold the law based off of what was clearly stated in the constitution.
Trump’s 100+ days in office have been met with a variety of different responses which highlight the chaotic and volatile nature of his presidency. An understanding of Trump as implementing a regime fueled by egotism has highlighted his lack of loyalty to anything other than himself, including to the Republican Party and the U.S. Constitution. The rejection of a commitment to anything beyond himself may be the force pushing Trump closer and closer to impeachment.