James Comey deserved to be fired. He bungled the Hillary Clinton server investigation from the very start, and he interfered in a democratic election. Any reasonable president would have fired him on day one.
But we don’t have a reasonable president, and Comey was fired on day 107. So why? Well, according to the letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Trump cited as the catalyst for this decision, it had to do with…Hillary Clinton? Huh? Per the memorandum that reads more like an op-ed than a legal document:
I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.
From Trump’s letter to James Comey alerting him of his termination:
I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.
It’s quite odd that the Attorney General would argue on behalf of Comey’s dismissal over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails when he told Lou Dobbs on Oct. 28th that Comey “had an absolute duty, in my opinion, 11 days or not, to come forward with the new information that he has and let the American people know that, too. She is under criminal investigation.” Donald Ayer—the Deputy Attorney General under George H.W. Bush—is quoted in this memorandum, and he told Buzzfeed that Comey’s dismissal is a “sham.”
Last night, Kellyanne Conway told Anderson Cooper that “this has nothing to do with the campaign from six months ago and everything to do with the performance of the FBI director since the president has been in the White House.” So Trump fired Comey based off the AG and deputy AG’s recommendation that Comey’s mismanagement of the investigation into Hillary Clinton is a fireable offense, but this had nothing to do with the campaign and everything to do with what Comey has done since Trump has been in office. What? So what has Comey done while Trump was in office that lead Trump to this conclusion? We have some clues. From the lede in Politico’s recap of the saga:
He [Trump] had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.
Further evidence that this had to do with the investigation into team Trump’s ties to Russia are contained within Trump’s very own letter to Comey. Here’s the second paragraph that congressman Justin Amash called “bizarre.”
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.
Bizarre is one word for it. Projection is another. The first part of that sentence reeks of fear. The FBI was reportedly blindsided by this decision.
James Comey learned of his firing from TV, and initially thought it was an elaborate prank. The letter was delivered to the FBI by Trump's long time bodyguard, and current director of Oval Office Operations.
None of this looks like it was well-thought out or comprehensively planned, betraying the logic hidden in the Deputy AG's letter that this was the result of deliberation over an incident that happened a year ago. Frankly, it looks like a panicked decision by Trump and his inner circle. From Politico:
Two White House officials said there was little communications strategy in handling the firing, and that staffers were given talking points late Tuesday for hastily arranged media appearances.
Sean Spicer and the White House communications staff were taken aback by this move, and were scrambling to come up with a coherent message as to what happened, and at one point, Spicer literally became the infamous Homer Simpson gif receding into the bushes. From The Washington Post:
After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.
“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We'll take care of this. ... Can you just turn that light off?”
One report states that the “White House and Department of Justice had been working on firing Comey since at least last week.” I believe that this is corroborated by the date at the top of the Deputy AG's letter.
It was written the day Comey was fired. This was not a recommendation that came to Trump upon the new deputy AG's arrival a couple weeks ago, but sure looks like it was the natural conclusion of the week-long deliberations between a White House whose associates are under investigation for ties to Russia and the Attorney General who had to recuse himself from the proceedings due to his misstatements under oath about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. As one “publicly pro-Trump member of the House” texted Republican strategist Rick Wilson, “this shit stinks.”
Are we really supposed to believe that the guy who led “lock her up” chants is now firing the man leading the investigation into his ties to Russia because of his mismanagement over the Hillary Clinton investigation? Especially when Trump said this on Oct. 30th of last year:
Come on. There is a zero percent chance that Donald Trump fired James Comey because he was unfair to Hillary Clinton. Let’s just call this what it is: a cover-up. And what may have spurred Trump to take this action so quickly? I have one idea. From CNN:
Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
These subpoenas were reportedly issued “weeks before” Comey’s dismissal. It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to line up these reports.
Sessions and Trump put their heads together last week to plot a way to get Comey fired. Why? Well, if CNN knew about subpoenas, I think it’s safe to say that the DOJ and White House did too. That’s the catalyst. So for a week, these men who are at least tangentially under federal investigation concocted a plot to dismiss the main cop on the beat. Could the report in ProPublica that Comey was wrong about how many e-mails top Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded to her husband Anthony Weiner have been a leak intended to create a legitimate rationale for Comey’s firing? I don’t know, but the plot I just described wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort and planning.
Early in the year, we were greeted with a flurry of stories relating to Trump’s Russian connections and the federal investigations into them. But for the past couple of months, there has been almost complete silence on this—save for a bombshell from The Washington Post that a FISA warrant was approved on Carter Page (which partially corroborated Louise Mensch’s initial piece in HeatStreet that kicked this whole saga off). Mensch’s entire article that Trump himself was a target of one of these rejected FISA requests has not been confirmed by any other outlet, but her general story that a FISA warrant was granted in October has been confirmed by the BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post, among others.
Throw in the fact that on the same day that Trump fired Comey, Lindsey Graham announced that he wanted to investigate Trump’s business ties to Russia, and that Trump hired a law firm to provide a certified letter basically saying “don’t,” and the circumstantial evidence surrounding this decision begins to get a bit overwhelming. I can certainly understand why Trump wouldn’t want the feds digging around his business ties, as I wrote in my deep dive into his Russian connections:
Trump’s Toronto financier came up through the ranks a company which was quite literally created by the KGB in order to swim in untraceable cash; was able to obtain a massive loan to buy a freaking yacht from a Kremlin-connected bank holding a significant stake in an investment fund which helped finance Trump’s New York SoHo debacle—one which Trump settled a civil lawsuit filed against him where one of the central provisions was that those helping with the criminal investigation had to stop talking to the feds. Nothing to see here.
Trump was fined $10 million by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network at the Treasury for “significant and long standing anti-money laundering violations.” If you check out the wealth of hyperlinks in my deep dive above, there are a multitude of reports from major publications that suggest that Trump has been laundering money for the Russian mob (and other criminal organizations) for his entire career. The FBI knows this because they are one of the main sources in many of those reports. Of course Trump would want to get rid of a Director who has demonstrated that he will go to the press with what he believes to be important developments in major cases.
Grand juries lead to subpoenas, subpoenas lead to warrants, and warrants lead to indictments, and firing the man leading an investigation into your activities sure looks like the literal definition of obstruction of justice—something that was a central plank to both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. At this rate, we can only hope that the Trump administration follows that same path. Our democracy depends on it.
This article has been updated by removing erroneous information that turned out to be pure speculation.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.