James Comey deserved to be fired.
As FBI director, he botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server and breached the public trust. But Comey didn’t lose his job over that. He lost it over his investigation into alleged ties between Russia and President Trump’s circle of friends and advisors. The truth is in Trump’s tweets.
As Trump posted just the other day: “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax. . . When will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2017
As conducted by Comey, Trump just ended it.
A more disciplined president would have deniability. But thanks to Trump’s honesty via social media, the world knows what he’s really thinking. When Trump signed an executive order that would freeze immigration from seven predominately Muslim countries back in January, a federal judge pointed to Trump’s campaign website and Twitter feed as evidence of Trump’s true intent — to ban Muslims, no matter how he tried to couch it once he took office.
In a memo made public in connection with Comey’s dismissal, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, makes an excellent case for firing him. Comey was wrong, Rosenstein wrote, to announce his conclusion that the case against Clinton should be closed. The FBI director was wrong to release “derogatory information” about Clinton even as he said he would not prosecute her. It was a mistake for Comey to tell Congress, via letter, about newly discovered e-mails 10 days before the election.
In the memo, Rosenstein also portrays this as a matter of bipartisan concern. That was never the case. To the delight of Trump and the GOP, Comey turned the Clinton investigation into a political weapon they never stopped using against her. The evidence includes a deluge of Trump tweets about “Crooked Hillary” as well as tweets blaming Comey for giving her a pass and praising him for bravery when he revived discussion about the e-mails.
Whether it cost Clinton the White House matters to Clinton and history, but will never be known for sure. The double standard of justice applied by Comey over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign should matter to everyone. At the same time Comey was informing the public about the Clinton e-mail investigation, he was also investigating Trump-Russia ties. But he never revealed that until after Trump’s victory. Once he did that, it was off with Comey’s head.
The letter of dismissal Trump sent to Comey reveals the president’s intense desire to separate himself from the supposedly fake Russia-Trump collusion story he has been tweeting about. As Trump wrote, “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.”
Much has been written about the power of Trump’s tweets, from their ability to influence a stock price to the potential for riling up a dictator. An unfiltered Trump should also make it harder for backers in his own party to accept whatever excuse he offers up for his actions. Sure, there’s a Department of Justice memo laying out a solid case for firing Comey. But there are also those presidential tweets referring to the Trump-Russia investigation as a hoax and charade.
Soon after he fired Comey, Trump was back to tweeting his innermost thoughts about “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer” and Democrats who wanted Comey out but now are “playing sad.” Soon, he tweeted, everyone “will be thanking me!”
Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
That would be true only if he chooses an FBI director who takes politics out of the process and leads an investigation without fear or favor — no matter what Trump tweets about ending it.
After Comey, that’s what the country needs more than ever. After Trump, that seems less likely than ever.