The firing of FBI Director James Comey confirms two things: the president of the United States is probably guilty and most definitely stupid.
There is no other explanation for this maneuver; its timing, its politics, its optics, its reflection of the current investigation into his campaign’s role in Russia’s meddling in our national electoral process, or the eventual handling of the announcement. Unless you’re guzzling the Trump Kool-Aid, no one can possibly offer a rationale for doing this, or at least doing this now, that doesn’t end with guilty, stupid or both.
Trump’s letter of dismissal to Comey told the whole tale. The president decided to include an aside about having been told personally by the man he was sacking that he was not directly under investigation…three times; a ham-fisted attempt to deflect the idea that this had nothing to do with being under investigation. By the way, that alone would be grounds to dismiss an FBI director. Whispering in the ear of the subject of an investigation that it ain’t really about him before its conclusion breaks so many laws it is hard to fathom.
Even more idiotic is Trump revealing a previous dinner engagement with Comey to NBC News the following day that included discussions on the director keeping his job. “I told him I’d think about it,” said Trump in the way a CEO dangles career survival as a bargaining chip. Later a NY Times report cited sources close to Comey that claimed the “thinking about it” came with a caveat of “loyalty”, to which Comey said he would provide the president only his “honesty”, something Trump obviously could not abide.
The second part of the letter frames several calls for Comey’s dismissal by members of the Justice Department, more pointedly, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. According to the voices that defended this move over the ensuing 24 hours, like the vice president, two press secretaries (can anyone find Sean Spicer?) and the usual host of spinners, it was Rosenstein’s strong recommendation that Comey be removed that sprang “the decisive president” into action, thus, in essence, laying the responsibility for it on someone else. However, in a spectacular twist of stupidity, the president pissed on all that and once again told NBC News it had nothing to do with any recommendation. “I was going to fire Comey all the time,” Trump admitted, adding stuff about Comey being “a grandstander” and “a showboat”, which is like Metallica telling you that your band is too loud.
Joining the stupid/guilty party is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who also recommended Comey’s dismissal in print, despite having to recuse himself from anything connected to the Russian investigation after lying to congress about his own potential involvement.
And the reason given for the firing? (drum roll) Comey had destroyed the FBI’s morale and …wait for it…hurt Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Cue laugh track.
Just last week, Trump, painfully unaware he is no longer in a campaign, stood in front of his cult following as they chanted “Lock her up!” and smiled. He repeatedly praised Comey for his “guts” in handling the Clinton email investigation for months and then when he became president not only allowed him to continue in the position, he never once mentioned removing him.
And then he did; just one coincidental day after the recently fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates spent hours presenting damning evidence that either stupidly, guilt or both led to the firing of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn for his illegal involvement with the Russians. You don’t have to be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to sleuth this one.
Then, a day after the firing, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe appeared before congress and completely refuted the White House claim that Comey committed any “atrocities” (their word) or what the president and his spinners referred to as a department “loss of confidence” in him. In fact, McCabe said Comey engendered “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” adding, “The vast majority of FBI employees enjoyed a deep, positive connection to Director Comey.” In other words, for about the four-hundredth time since taking office (voter fraud, fake news, wiretapped by Obama, ships heading to Korean Peninsula), Trump made it all up.
This is once again a solution looking for a reason.
Now, whether you choose to ignore the glaring evidence pointing toward guilt or explain it away with sub-mental theorizing about witch hunts, no one actually knows if Donald Trump or the dozen or so of his campaign staffers are actually guilty of anything beyond hubris and, well, stupidly, but one thing is for certain, through his erratic tweeting and haphazard reactions to all of it the president sure thinks he’s guilty of something.
First and foremost, although he continues to call the investigation and the Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, confirmed by every level of U.S. intelligence community, a hoax, the president has spent an enormous amount of energy and time defending himself. And while mocking investigations against you is classic Al Capone stuff, Trump only echoes the idea that there is something worth mocking.
Secondly, the White House has done back-flips to get ahead of the story at every turn, hoping to thwart its momentum, from releasing bogus info to one of the lead congressional investigators to the aforementioned sacking of Sally Yates mere weeks after she warned the administration of its abysmal pick of a traitor as national security advisor.
And now in this final act of desperation, following his hollow “Mission Accomplished” moment in the White House rose garden hailing a healthcare bill that will certainly be hacked into unrecognizable pieces by a frightened senate and sent back to the House in a body bag, the president disappears for five days before emerging with this bungled firing of the person who holds the most delicate position to nail him.
What shouldn’t be lost in all this is that Comey was really shitty at this job, or at least performing the public face of it. His July 5, 2016, berating of a major party candidate after exonerating her of criminal activity as if she were a kindergarten student was not only unprofessional and idiotic but put the onus on future directors to not only present “just the facts, ma’am”, but add some kind of Supreme Court dissent to each decision. Then, unconscionably, he halted the democratic process of a national election by erroneously leading the American electorate to believe that the same investigation was re-opened on flimsy evidence that wasn’t really evidence.
And while I think Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump had little to nothing to do with Comey’s blatant overreach and clumsy communication, it does not clear him of being shitty.
Even so, this would have been a gutsy move by Trump in January or even February, but now? When Comey was currently requesting further resources to increase the investigation? When Trump had a meeting with Russian diplomats closed off to the media?
Yeah, stupid, guilty or both.
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James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, “Midnight For Cinderella” and “Y”. and his new book, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon”.