“Basically [Trump] is saying, ‘I’m firing Comey for doing the things that got me elected because I’m afraid people are going to find out who did the rest of the things to get me elected,’” the official said.
The things that got Trump elected being Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email case. The other things being the Russian interference in the election.
The official is certainly not convinced that Trump was disturbed by Comey’s departure from the usual Department of Justice protocol in his pursuit of the president’s political opponent.
“If that’s the case, then why the f— did you wait five and a half months to fire him?” the official asked. “The real reason is he’s inching closer to Trump. He’s getting uncomfortably close to people who are uncomfortably close.”
And after nearly six months, there was a sudden rush.
“Five-thirty on a Tuesday?” the official asked. “Whatever happened to 5:30 on a Friday?”
Earlier Tuesday, everybody had been asking why Trump waited 18 days to fire National Security Advisor Michael Flynn after learning he had been compromised by the Russians. That was eclipsed by the sudden firing of Comey, whose investigation into Russian meddling could lead to other questions about other Trump associates.
In a decidedly Trumpian twist, the Justice Department memorandum that detailed justifications for firing Comey was written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That is the same guy who took over the investigation of Russian meddling after Attorney General Jeff Sessions grudgingly recused himself, having failed to disclose two meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak during the campaign.
On a day when subpoenas reportedly went out in connection with Flynn and the Russian investigation, Rosenstein took the time to write a six-page memorandum detailing Comey’s transgressions against Department of Justice protocol last year.
“RESTORING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE FBI,” the subject line read.
Rosenstein did not likely take it upon himself to prepare the document. And Sessions would not likely have asked him to do so unless prompted by the White House.
In his letter to Comey, Trump made sure to say—in what was news to everybody—“I greatly appreciate you having told me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation,” but “I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
In other words, Trump concurred with what his minions had to know he wanted to hear.
The director of the FBI is appointed to a 10-year term and a sitting one can only be removed by the president and only for cause. The lone instance was in 1993, when President Clinton removed William Sessions—no relation—for “overwhelming improprieties” that included everything from a hinky home mortgage to phony tax exemptions to misuse of the FBI planes.
Comey has been known to overthink things, but he has repeatedly proven that he will do what he thinks is right with no thought of the consequences for himself. The few people who suggest an exception are some New York FBI agents who grumble that he pressed them to rush too fast through the emails found on Huma Abedin’s laptop and that they might otherwise have been able to make a case against Clinton.
Perhaps Comey has complicated, nausea-inducing feelings about that aspect of the investigation. And maybe that caused his uncharacteristic error when he testified before Congress last week that Huma Abedin had “forwarded hundreds and thousands” of emails to her husband Anthony Weiner’s laptop. She had, in fact, forwarded only a handful.
The FBI was preparing a letter correcting the error right about the time Rosenstein was writing his memo taking Comey to task for not acknowledging much bigger errors in handling the email case.
“Almost everyone agrees the director made serious mistakes,” Rosenstein wrote. “It is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
In those very sentences is woven one reason for moving now, after six months; Democrats and Republicans both felt that Comey had egregiously erred. And the dopey error in his testimony about the emails made him vulnerable.
Comey was vanquished as if Trump were a king who had bellowed, “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
But not even the ever-impulsive Trump would likely have made such a move without having some kind of plan for Comey’s successor. A suggestion of the next step is offered by another sentence in Rosenstein’s letter.
“We should reject the departure and return to the traditions,” Rosenstein wrote.
More than a few people at FBI headquarters are betting on the job going to John Pistole, onetime deputy director of the FBI who appeared in an iconic photo walking Mafia Boss Vincent “the Chin” Gigante in a bathrobe and handcuffs from his Greenwich Village home in 1990. Pistole went on become a no-nonsense administrator of the Transportation Safety Administration. He is now president of Anderson University in Indiana, home state of Vice President Mike Pence.
Indeed, the lean, straight-laced Pistole looks like Pence’s g-man cousin. And we know how important looks are to our president.
“He even has a neat name,” one official said of Pistole.
Whoever becomes the new director, he or she will be working with Rosenstein, who continues to run the investigation into the Russian meddling that is starting to look like it just might go down in history with the suffix “-gate.”
Meanwhile, an official who was at FBI headquarters on Tuesday tried to joke off the late afternoon shock, asking: “Does the president have the power to fire the FBI director?”
He answered: “President Putin can fire anybody. If Putin can put Trump in the White House, he can get rid of the FBI director.”