When he dismissed FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, May 9, 2016, President Donald Trump stunned Washington DC and ignited a firestorm of protest.
With new developments in this situation exploding from media outlets every day since the firing, it hasn’t been easy for even the most seasoned political junkie to keep track of it all, no less fully understand what is truly happening. But emerging from this chaotic news inundation is one possible result when all is said and done and it is this: The president may well have committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
What Actually Happened?
On display for the entire world to see, sadly, Donald Trump’s autocratic tendencies erupted full-bore when he terminated Comey, the man who was not only leading the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election but also the bureau’s scrutiny of the Trump presidential campaign’s possible connections to the Russian government. And, of course, as part of his own campaign, Trump was, and still is, a potential target of such scrutiny. In effect, the President of the United States decapitated the FBI’s leadership of the investigation that had, and still has, extensive power to uncover wrongdoing on his part and that of his campaign team.
Just one day after signing his order to fire Comey, the president also received Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, at the White House, in the Oval Office. Kislyak. That’s the Russian official who was without doubt in communication with more than one of Donald Trump’s campaign people before the election.
Why was there such a meeting in the first place? The answer is this: because Vladimir Putin requested it. And why were there no U.S. media representatives allowed in that oval office gathering, especially when a photographer from a Russian news agency controlled by the Russian government was present? The only reason the public saw pictures of that White house sit-down was because the Russians made them available. The Russians and not the free press of the United States of America. In those photos, a smiling Donald Trump is amiably chatting with his equally smiling guests, representatives of the government that incontrovertibly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to the president’s favor.
Why Fire Comey?
Evidently not trusting his own staff or top surrogates to keep the coming termination from leaking ahead of time, Trump only notified them of his decision shortly before the event occurred. Being caught flatfooted as they were caused his people to scramble in their attempts to support him and together with the president, they initially gave the following as the essential reasons for getting rid of the FBI Director, as well as a preemptive denial of wrongdoing by Trump himself:Director Comey simply wasn’t doing the job.
- Director Comey simply wasn’t doing the job.
- Many FBI agents were not happy with Comey and wanted him out.
- The firing was for Director Comey’s mishandling of the Hillary Clinton emails situation.
- The firing came as a result of a written recommendation by Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein and approved by Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. That’s the same Sessions who had recused himself from involvement in the Russian meddling investigation. So much for an extremely valid withdrawal of a major player in the Trump campaign who had problematically met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak before the election.
- The firing had nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
Why Fire Comey? A Closer Look
But listening to well-placed sources soon after the FBI Director’s dismissal gave a fuller story. Among the reasons or background given were these:
- The president had considered getting rid of Director Comey as far back as the time of the election but temporarily decided against such action.
- The week before the termination, Trump’s agitation with Comey reached a boiling point.
- One report said that Trump wasn’t happy that Comey had asked the Department of Justice for greatly increased resources to pursue his Russia investigations.
- The president was still angry with Director Comey because he would not support Trump’s unfounded assertion that former President Obama “wiretapped” him.
- The week before the termination, Trump’s agitation with Comey boiled over after the Director testified before Congress and wouldn’t give the president a heads-up regarding what he might say at the hearing. This Trump and team considered insubordination.
- Trump believed that many Democrats would agree with his decision to fire Comey because of their dislike for how the FBI Director dealt with the Clinton email affair.
- It indeed was about Russia and the FBI probe into the Trump campaign, partly or completely.
- Trump was enraged that Director Comey had never offered public exoneration regarding his campaign team’s possible Russia connections.
- The president simply couldn’t understand why the Russia probe wouldn’t just go away and he would repeatedly ask his staff that question.
- One report even claimed that President Trump screamed at TV clips having to do with the Russia investigation. Screamed.
Of course the Democrats loudly decried the President’s action and likened it to those of Richard Nixon during the Watergate days. And naturally, Comey’s firing considerably sharpened their continued call for the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to investigate the Trump campaign’s Russia associations with an eye for possible collusion.
In contrast, most Republicans generally supported the termination. A few found it “troubling” and some took issue, as did the Democrats, with how the firing was handled: Director Comey learned of his change in status from TV news reports while out of town even though a courier had been dispatched with written documents to FBI headquarters.
Word from FBI sources, including the freshly appointed acting Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, contradicted the president’s assertion that most agents were dissatisfied with Comey. According to his testimony to Congress, the former Director was well-liked at the bureau even though some disagreed with his handling of the Clinton email situation. Shock, dismay, and anger quickly permeated the FBI, according to these reports, but along with those immediate reactions also came a resolve to keep doing the job at hand, including the Russia investigation, no matter what. Comey had only completed 4 years of a 10-year term of office, established to shield FBI directors from political interference.
Trump Tries to Fix Things
Later during that week of the termination, the president, no longer trusting his own staff or other surrogates to defend his Comey decision, badly bungled an attempt to get control of the situation by:
- Saying he had planned to fire Comey before he received the termination recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
- Claiming in a tweet how on 3 separate occasions, including at a White House dinner, Director Comey had assured him that he was not a target of the Russia investigation.
(A statement strongly disputed by insiders who know Comey and had knowledge from the Director of what went on during the White House dinner. In fact, those same people also described how Trump asked for Comey’s loyalty, which was not given.)
- Asserting during an NBC interview, in contradiction to what his aides and surrogates were saying, that at least part of his reasoning for firing Director Comey was indeed, the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.
- Tweeting a threat to former Director Comey, again stimulating comparison of Trump to Nixon during Watergate, or a mob boss, that he “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press.”
Surely it Couldn’t Get Any Worse
But it did and there seems to be no end in sight. Just as this article was being readied for publication, even more developments popped onto an already overheated stage:
- The U.S. Department of justice is now in the process of interviewing a highly controversial list of candidates to replace James Comey as FBI Director. Around that selection, questions swirl as to whether or not the chosen individual will fully carry through with the FBI’s vital investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.
- Incredibly, in his meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States at the White House, the president rashly disclosed highly classified information on terrorism shared with the U.S. by one of our key allies, supposedly, Israel.
- Before his termination, former FBI Director Comey wrote an office file memo describing how the president cornered him alone in the oval office and asked that he not pursue the investigation of Michael Flynn’s involvement with the Russians.
So What’s Next?
The president has now embarked on a whirlwind international tour. Unfortunately, the allied leaders scheduled to meet with the president on his upcoming trip will surely have questions about his stability, decision making and reliability. This will especially be so for Israel, our key Middle East ally, the probable source of the top-secret information shared with the United States and leaked to the Russians by Donald Trump.
And as those allies interact with our president, the question may well arise as to just how much faith and credit they will be able to invest in the man before them, faith and credit that can greatly impact the security and prosperity of the United States of America. If Trump’s words and actions in relation to the rule of law in his own country are being so seriously questioned at home, those leaders he connects with may eventually hold back on full cooperation simply because of lack of trust.
Sources for further information
Videos + Articles
A Times Exclusive: Trump, Comey and the Russia Investigation (NYTimes 1:34)
President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey (USAToday.com 55 sec.)
Trump latest: Live updates on FBI Director Comey’s firing (CNN.com 2:34)
Times Reporters Decode the Trump-Comey Saga (NYTimes.com 3:56)
Trump Fires Comey: Key Moments in a Public Scuffle (NYTimes.com 2:34)
Behind Comey’s firing: An enraged Trump, fuming about Russia (Politico.com)
Sense of Crisis Deepens as Trump Defends F.B.I. Firing (NYTimes.com)
Trump Taunts Comey Over ‘Tapes’ of Their Conversations (NBCNews.com)