Not only is the sitting president under investigation for his campaign’s collusion with Russia, he’s also under fire for obstructing justice and trying to avoid the consequences.
His early attempts at obstructing justice were only relayed long after they happened. During his June 2017 testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, former-FBI director James Comey testified that in January of 2017, Trump asked him for loyalty and requested that investigations into Mike Flynn be stopped.
But first stunningly public display of obstruction stunned the nation: On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired James Comey. The appointment of an FBI director is purposefully long, in order to shield the office from partisan whims. Comey was only three years into his ten-year term.
Although you may think that the president would relish an opportunity to look his foe in the eye and yell, “You’re fired!”, Trump declined to terminate Comey face-to-face. Instead, Comey found out second hand that he was no longer the Director of the FBI. While speaking to agents in Los Angeles, the news of his dismissal was broadcast by media.
Democrats were stunned:
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement:
‘The President’s sudden and brazen firing of the FBI Director raises the ghosts of some of the worst Executive Branch abuses. We cannot stand by and watch a coverup of the possible collusion with a hostile foreign power to undermine American democracy.’
As did Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA):
‘If Director Comey was fired to stifle the FBI’s Russia investigation—and the timing of this action makes that a real possibility—that simply can’t be allowed to happen.’
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) called the firing “outrageous”:
Even Republicans struggled to make sense of the firing:
I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 10, 2017
Another Republican, Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, calls for an independent investigation into Russia/2016. pic.twitter.com/zzZ2GXPq6Z
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) May 10, 2017
I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.
— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) May 9, 2017
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) issued a statement:
‘While the President has the legal authority to remove the Director of the FBI, I am disappointed in the President’s decision to remove James Comey from office.’
In his official statement, Trump laid out his reasoning for the firing:
‘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 Department of Justice guidance that he is referring to is contained in two letters in which Trump directed the composition. First was a recommendation from the U.S. Attorney General (who had already recused himself from matters regarding the Russia investigation). Sessions stated:
‘The Director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions.’
Sessions mentioned that he supported the reasoning contained in the second recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. This recommendation delved further into the supposed reasoning for Comey’s firing:
‘Over the past year, however, the FBI’s reputation and credibility have suffered substantial damage, and it has affected the entire Department of Justice. That is deeply troubling to many Department employees and veterans, legislators and citizens.’
This reasoning is contrary to Trump’s later reported statements during a meeting with Russian officials the day after he fired Comey. From The New York Times:
‘“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”’
The Trump administration tried to distance itself from Comey’s firing. Trump latched on to the explanation that the firing was unavoidable, due to Comey’s questionable leadership ability. Furthermore, Trump and his surrogates claimed that the action was supported by the rank-and-file of the FBI.
James Comey will be replaced by someone who will do a far better job, bringing back the spirit and prestige of the FBI.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
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
The @TuckerCarlson opening statement about our once cherished and great FBI was so sad to watch. James Comey's leadership was a disaster!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 3, 2017
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
The White House soon began to trot out the line that:
‘The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. Bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.’
The next day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders went on to claim that the president:
‘…heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.’
The president, his administration, and his surrogates in the press pained a picture of an FBI in turmoil, of a bureau in revolt against a corrupt leader.
Thankfully, the FBI is a little obsessed with documentation. A Freedom of Information Act request was granted to journalists from Lawfare, who obtained more than a hundred pages of communications between FBI leadership and their subordinates.
These documents prove that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, then-Director Comey was almost universally revered and respected by both the rank-and-file bureau members and senior leadership.
It is all there in black and white. The president and his administration purposefully lied about the reaction of the FBI to Comey’s firing. They lied about the Bureau’s opinion of his leadership ability.
In a May 12, 2017 email, newly acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe comforted the rank-and-file members of the FBI that, according to Huckabee Sanders, were rejoicing at Comey’s departure:
‘So please — hang in there. As men and women of the FBI, we are at our best when times are tough. Please stay focused on the mission, keep doing great work, be good to each other and we will get through this together.’
Are these the words of a new director who is happy to finally be rid of a corrupt supervisor?
Douglas E. Lindquist, the assistant director of the CJIS Division (the largest division in the FBI), sent an email to the entire CJIS, entitled “Moving Forward.” In the email he addresses the mood of the FBI in regards to Comey’s firing:
‘I participated in the Lync call with new Acting Director McCabe… There was a somber tone to the call, but Acting Director McCabe reminded everyone that the FBI will continue to perform our mission as we have for the past 109 years.’
Assistant Director of the International Operations Division, Carlos Cases, comforted his division:
‘The past two days have been a whirlwind of shock at the suddenness of the departure of Director Comey and concern with what the future will hold.’
Yet another leader, Kathryn Turman, described the reaction of the FBI:
‘Our hearts may be heavy but we must continue to do what we do best, which is to protect and serve the American people… Hang in there.’
Over and over and over, senior members of the FBI and their subordinates expressed sadness, shock, and incredulousness at the news of Comey’s firing.
The actual facts are in stark contrast to the situation as described by Trump. And now, the public knows which account is backed by the truth.
Featured image via Getty/Nur Photos