The Volokh Conspiracy

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Trump fires FBI Director James Comey


FBI Director James B. Comey in Washington on March 20. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

[UPDATE 5-9. A few additional points. Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein's memo is reprinted here. It has lots of detail about how Comey screwed up—to Trump's advantage, of course—during the election campaign. But the question is: Why is Trump suddenly upset about that?! He was thrilled with everything Comey did. But suddenly he's so deeply concerned about the public statements Comey made back in July and October?? Come on. He could've fired Comey in January, if that were the case—and I would have supported him if he had done so.

But in other news, federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the business records of Michael Flynn and a number of his associates as part of the Russia probe—a "significant escalation of activity in the FBI's broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia." Hmm.

We need a special prosecutor—badly. Trump and his associates may not be hiding anything about their links to Russian intelligence—but man, they're sure doing a good impression of people who have a great deal to hide.

And really: if this wasn't about Russia and the Russia investigation, why does Trump's letter to Comey, which consists of three sentences, start one paragraph this way:

"While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau."

It's completely bizarre. Why is he thinking about whether or not he was under investigation? Strange, don't you think?]

The Post is reporting that President Trump has fired James B. Comey, head of the FBI. The cited reason involves the misstatements that Comey made in his recent congressional testimony regarding the Hillary Clinton email investigation (in particular, his statement that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded "hundreds and thousands of emails, some of which contained classified information" to her husband, Anthony Weiner, when in fact, as the FBI has now acknowledged, there were only "a small number" of such emails.

It sounds pretextual, to me; something tells me that's not why he's being fired. The idea that Trump is deeply unhappy with Comey because Comey overstated the harm done by the Clinton email server mess doesn't ring true to my ears. It's almost too good, for Trump, to be true. First, Comey delivers an enormous electoral advantage by mishandling the public communications about the Clinton investigation during the campaign, helping, by all accounts, to swing the election his way. Then, with that investigation completed, he starts investigating the Trump campaign, and the astonishing series of links between Trump aides and intelligence officers and other agents of a hostile foreign power—links that those aides somehow keep forgetting to list on their various disclosure forms, curiously enough. By all accounts, Comey took seriously his responsibilities to see that that investigation was a thorough one; I think he was being sincere when he testified that he was deeply upset—"mildly nauseous"—when he saw the influence that his actions had on the election, and I took him at his word that he would, bend over backward to make sure that the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the election, and possible collusion by "U.S. persons," was a thorough one.

And then he is fired—for the very thing (his mishandling of the Clinton investigation) that had made him so valuable to Trump. It seems awfully neat and tidy. I guess we'll know more about whether this is actually about Russia when we see who Trump nominates as Comey's replacement. Stay tuned.