President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey this evening in a surprise move. Various politicians and the media have openly referred to the act as “Nixonian” and “another Saturday Night Massacre.” I have previously stated how the Saturday Day Massacre has been misrepresented. I also do not agree with Jeff Toobin on CNN tonight that the decision was clearly due to the fact that Comey’s investigation was getting “too close” to President Trump. I do not see how one can reach that conclusion after months of criticism over Comey’s past conduct, including widespread anger from Democrats over his public statements on Hillary Clinton. I agree that the timing is concerning and legitimately questioned. However, the Administration may also have waited for the Deputy Attorney General to be confirmed to allow a career prosecutor to review the matter and to concur with the decision. Democrats denounced Comey over his actions regarding the Clinton Administration. The matter was given to the Deputy Attorney General who was just confirmed recently.
President Trump took efforts in his letter state that Comey assured him that he was not under investigation. He stated that “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.”
The White House released a memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a respected career prosecutor. He found that Comey’s prior conduct did “substantial damage” to the FBI’s “reputation and credibility.” He noted that the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department” and that his conduct was “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”
Rosentstein served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He is not viewed as a political hack. Moreover, the firing of Comey results in the elevation of an individual widely denounced by Republicans: Andrew McCade. That would hardly be an optimal political switch. The question is whether the White House will bypass McCade due to his political controversy involving his wife and select someone else to serve as acting FBI Director.
Notably, Comey’s testimony last week resulted in a correction issued today by the FBI as to one of his representations. After that hearing, a source referred to Comey in saying that he was “as popular as cholera” on the Hill.
FBI directors generally hold 10-year term limits and cannot be reappointed, but Comey’s predecessor, Robert Mueller III was given special permission by Congress to serve an extra two years. However, the director is effectively an at-will employee who serves at the pleasure of the president. Only one president has fired a direction. In 1993, President Bill Clinton fired William Sessions after the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility found ethical problems involving the use of FBI plane to visit his daughter and the payment for a security system installed in his home