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Fecteau: Trump’s Miscalculation On the Comey Firing

Thursday, May 11, 2017

 

James Comey

Citing the mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email scandal, President Donald J. Trump claimed FBI director James Comey undercut “public trust and confidence” of his agency, and fired him on Tuesday. This is strange because, not soon after Mr. Trump’s election, he kept Mr. Comey in the role as FBI director. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus even praised Mr. Comey calling him “extraordinarily competent.”

If Mr. Trump was so confident in Mr. Comey after the poor handling of the Clinton email scandal, why cite the email scandal as the reason for his firing? Something just doesn’t add up, and now Trump has another gigantic mess on his hands.

This may have been a calculated (or miscalculated?) decision to rein in any attempts to undermine Mr. Trump’s standing as president. Democrats called for Mr. Comey’s ouster during the presidential campaign because of Comey’s letter to Congress. Just before the election, Mr. Comey let Congress know in written correspondence he was taking “additional investigative steps” into Clinton’s use of a private email server – this move is thought to have cost Clinton the election.

During the Trump presidency, Mr. Comey had a strange role reversal. Mr. Comey became a check to Mr. Trump’s credibility, leading an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. Mr. Comey also repudiated Trump’s accusation that President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump tower – something of an embarrassment for Mr. Trump.

In firing Mr. Comey, Mr. Trump could have thought that Mr. Comey, an Obama appointee, was too unpredictable to keep as head of an organization tasked with investigating his administration. Trump may have even felt firing Comey would be met with muted condemnation because of the toxic relations between Comey and the Democrats – he misjudged the optics badly.

In one GoLocal Article, I (perhaps naively?) urged Congress to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. After the fiasco that ensued with California U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes over the handling of intelligence related to the Russian meddling scandal, Congress doesn’t appear up to be up to the task. These Congressional committees can be exceptionally biased anyway with a Republican-controlled Congress – such as with the situation with Mr. Nunes. Of the five Congressional standing committees investigating Mr. Trump, there is no bipartisan select committee to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia, only Republican majority controlled committees sympathetic to Mr. Trump.

I had some confidence the FBI would step in as an unbiased advocate for interests of the people (justice is blind, right?). That expectation dimmed when then U.S. Senator and now U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was caught – essentially – lying to the U.S. Senate, and the American people about his own contacts with Russian officials. Mr. Sessions eventually recused himself from any inquiry into this past presidential election.

Thus, the divisive Mr. Comey became the reluctant, deficient, yet a preeminent champion, the man who would finally shed light on the extent of Trump’s ties to Russia. Even with Mr. Comey’s flawed approach to Clinton mess, Mr. Comey appeared to be conducting an impartial investigation, an investigation critical to instill faith in our democracy.

With Mr. Comey’s firing, this FBI investigation could be just as or perceived to be as compromised. Regardless, the trust in an institution based on the rule of law will have a serious perception problem. Rumor has it that Trump allies Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani may be picked for the position of FBI director. While the Russian meddling investigation is still ongoing, can there truly be an unbiased result with one of these men in charge? Likely not.

All hope is not lost. Two other avenues remain feasible options: an independent commission (e.g. the 9/11 commission) or a special prosecutor (I prefer the latter for the sake of expedition). With the dismissal of Comey, Mr. Trump made an egregious mistake. The calls will grow louder for an investigation unrestrained by political baggage, and now, Trump has to deal with another controversy – something his rock bottom approval ratings cannot afford. 

 

Matt Fecteau ([email protected]) is a former White House national security intern and Iraq War veteran. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewFecteau

 

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