Comey’s Firing Is All About Trump

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Comey is terminated. An ineffective leader? It takes one to know one.

W.J. Astore

Sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious.  The firing of FBI Director James Comey is not about his job performance and especially his handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails.  It’s all about Donald J. Trump.

Consider Trump’s terse letter of termination to Comey.  Here’s the key passage:

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.

The bolded phrase is remarkable.  Trump is at pains to suggest that Comey is not investigating him, yet the FBI is indeed looking into Russian influence in the 2016 election, including ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

Whether you believe the whole Russian influence dispute is a made-up scandal, a red herring, so to speak, the fact is that Trump sees it as a major threat to his prerogatives and power. That’s why he’s at pains to state bluntly that Comey is not investigating him. Comey, Trump says, told him three times — three times! — he’s not under investigation.

The president doth protest too much.  If you think Comey is unable to lead effectively, fire him for that reason.  You don’t need to include a self-aggrandizing statement of how blameless or innocent you are in the ongoing Russian investigation.

Trump’s firing of Comey, moreover, displays his petulance, his impetuousness, and indeed his nervousness about the trajectory of his presidency.

As the CEO of a family business, Trump is used to firing people who don’t kowtow to him. Running a nation, however, is not like running a family business.  Right?

Will Trump prevail?  Time will tell.  One thing is certain: American democracy — what’s left of it — suffered another body blow yesterday.

13 thoughts on “Comey’s Firing Is All About Trump

  1. This has nothing to do with former FBI Director Comey. It does have something to do with President Trump, but not directly. The entire tempest in a teacup has only to do with the possibility of detente with Russia: one of the few sane policies that Donald Trump has advocated since he first conceived the notion of becoming President of the United States. The stupid and bellicose neocon/liberal-interventionist lynch mob (thoroughly bipartisan) will have none of this, of course, for they absolutely must have a shadowy, menacing “enemy” with which to terrify the Nation of Sheep into abject submission. Not difficult to do, normally, for no people shit their collective pants at the slightest, whispered “boo!” like Americans. But should President Trump actually stumble into a common-sense policy of cooperation with the Russian Federation, he would undermine a multitude of cozy careers at the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security, weapons-and-“services” contractors, and Corporate Media generally, just to name a few of the multitudes who feast on bullshit belligerence.

    So, President Trump should want to get this whole Russophobia hysteria out of the way if he really wants to pursue a policy of detente with Russia. (Notice the recent pictures of Henry Kissinger together with President Trump in the oval office). I emphasize the word “should” because Machiavelli would probably advise the evil imp in Trump to fan the flames of this groundless hysteria so that when it blows up later — because it rests on no evidence of anything — then it will take the hyperventilating Democatic Party with it in the next election cycle. Firing FBI Director Comey at this time may have had something to do with this line of strategic thinking. Not certain of this. Just saying …

    Time will tell, but if Leonid Brezhnev and Chairman Mao could manipulate Nixon and Mikhail Gorbachev could manipulate Reagan — just by talking to them — then Vladimir Putin ought to have no trouble with Donald Trump. After all, crooked and/or superficial American presidents do require intelligent foreign leaders to occasionally talk some sense into them. If President Trump gets smart — even once — that will make up for firing any number of sloppy and loud-mouthed D.C courtiers who can’t even take possession of a suspect bathroom computer server in order to see what, in fact, it actually contained. You know, that “police work” thing.

    I think that President Trump ought to win this round. If he doesn’t or can’t, then he doesn’t have much of a presidency ahead of him.

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    1. Mike: I’m not buying the idea the usual suspects need Russia as an enemy. The U.S. has shown itself able to gin up on demand all the “enemies” we need, whether Al Qaeda or ISIS or “terror” or the Taliban or … you catch my drift. When in doubt, there’s always the Chinese and pivots to Asia. So I don’t think Russia and Putin need to be hyped as threats to sustain the system.

      BTW, I have respect for Putin and Company. They’re playing a weak hand very well. Put differently, they truly are playing chess while Trump plays, what, Monopoly? My money is on the chess players.

      Speaking of chess, Kasparov is on the record as saying Putin needs the U.S. as an enemy, not as a friend, to justify his rule, the reverse of what you suggest. Kasparov, of course, is an outspoken critic of Putin. He hasn’t yet received his radioactive pill; I assume his near-legendary stint as World Chess Champion makes it a bit more difficult to get rid of him, but who knows? There may yet be a Kasparov Gambit. Your move, Putin.

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      1. I have to disagree with you, in turn, Bill, but primarily because you seem to think that the usual suspects spell the nefarious enemy’s name “Russia” when, in fact, they never got beyond spelling it “Soviet.” Not that he ever made much of a fight about it, but even the ephemeral President Barack Obama once told these vituperative morons to “get beyond 1989” in their view of the world. They refused to do so, and he did not insist.

        As well, “Terrorism,” as a brand name for “Reactionary Panic,” “Mystic Dread,” “Abstract Angst,” or just plain “Fear Itself” has about run out of steam. After fifteen years of meaningless “Al Qaeda and associated forces” body counts, those dead “#2 Leader” guys (along with their dead families, friends, neighbors, and countrymen) just don’t seem to justify eleven aircraft carrier strike groups or fleets of nuclear-armed submarines, etc. So much for the awful peasant “threat.”

        For their part, China purchases our best real estate (with the worthless printed paper we hand them) and lends us money to buy all the things that they make for us. So we can’t really fuck with them. They fight with “silver bullets” that make very little noise.

        That pretty much leaves only “Soviet” Russia, Iran, and North Korea to make us soil our collective diapers. But Iran and North Korea pose no real threat to the United States, in any way, shape, or form. Therefore, by process of elimination, America’s monumentally moribund military has only the Russian Federation to cry “wolf” about.

        I don’t know about Mr Kasparov’s popularity among the Russian people, Bill. But President Putin’s favorability rating stands at about 80% plus. Additionally, I do not know if the Russians have ever elected Mr Kasparov to any office in their government. I don’t think they have. From what I have seen, President Putin has politely refrained from returning the gratuitous insults flung at him and his country by former President Obama, former Secretary of State, You-Know-Her, and U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, among other American officials too numerous to list here. President Putin, in spite of all the American and Eurpean efforts to provoke him, continues to call the United States and Europe “our partners.” I don’t see any evidence that President Putin or the Russian people want the United States and Europe for enemies. Quite to the contrary. If the Russians really wanted to hurt the United States, they would simply refuse to ferry any more U.S. astronauts up to the International Space Station, leaving the $100 billion boondoggle to to fall out of orbit and burn up re-entering the atmosphere. But the Russians made an agreement with NASA, and they have scrupulously kept their part of it. I could multiply instances of Russian co-operation with the United States, but I think I’ve already made my point. In any event, I find Mr Kasparov’s opinions in this matter unpersuasive, to say the least.

        Finally, I just caught a segment of a talking heads panel on CNN International and damn near the whole thing had to do with something the “Russians” had done to “influence” or otherwise “interfere with” last year’s presidential election. No one blamed the Chinese. No one blamed the Iranians. No one blamed the North Koreans. No one even blamed failed candidate You-Know-Her or President Obama and the entire U.S. “defense” establishment for not “protecting” our 50 sacred state presidential elections (never any historical issues with those) from whatever the Russians in their globe-spanning omnipotence did to “undermine” them. Just like 9/11/2001: never any “defense” around when you need some, even when we have to pay over a trillion dollars a year for what we don’t get. Perhaps we should blame the Russians for our enormous budget and trade deficits, too.

        I’ll stick with my orginal thesis, Bill. “The Russians did something bad” surely doesn’t make much of a bogeyman for the failing and flailing Corporate Military Junta (currently masquerading as our “government”), but apparently they can conjure no fable more fabulous or “frightening.”

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      2. A Russian behind every tree, and every Russian able to leap tall Trump Towers in a single bound. Welcome to the new Cold War. More than a few died in the last one, and there will be a sad tally for this one.

        As for Comey – one less swamp monster prowling the swamp.

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  2. Speaking of President Trump firing incompetent, loud-mouthed subordinates check out the following from antiwar.com regarding the next head (hopefully) to roll shortly:

    Report: Trump Screamed at McMaster Over South Korea Assurances. Says McMaster ‘Undermined’ Him Over Demand to Pay for Missile Defense,” by Jason Ditz, May 09, 2017.

    When President Trump demanded that South Korea pay for the $1 billion THAAD missile defense system being installed in South Korea, South Korean officials made it clear pretty quickly that wasn’t going to happen. They had an agreement signed, after all, and payment wasn’t part of it.

    National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was quick to try to defuse the issue, insisting that the US would “adhere to our word” and pay for the THAAD, and that Trump’s talk of paying wasn’t official US policy. Apparently he didn’t talk to Trump about that before the call.

    Several sources are now reporting that Trump was “furious” over McMaster’s comments to South Korea, got him on the phone and screamed at him, accusing him of “undermining him” on the plan to get South Korea to pay for THAAD.

    This comes amid growing reports that McMaster has fallen out of favor within the administration, particularly with Trump, though the White House is insisting Trump still has every confidence in him. That’s not what insiders say, however, with many reporting Trump “regrets” McMaster as a replacement for the sacked Gen. Flynn as National Security Adviser.

    Flynn lasted only a few weeks, and while McMaster has lasted a little over two months now, replacing him would likely be a struggle for the administration, he could still find himself the second-shortest serving National Security Adviser in US history.

    Oh, how I hope so. President Trump needs to fire the entire Joint Chefs of Stuff and send every last one of our stuffed-shirt, ticket punching generals back to minimally furnished barracks at Fort Podunk, Noplace U.S.A., where they belong. The sooner the better. Let the bureaucratic “bloodletting” begin. No more military officers in the Civilian government. Always and forever a very, very, …, really very bad idea.

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  3. For a technical analysis of the employment termination in question, see: Trump Fires FBI Boss James Comey – It’s About Time…, by Moon Of Alabama, Information Clearing House (May 10, 2017). The main legal/administrative point, as I understand it:

    At the first closing of the investigation Comey held a press conference and said:

    “our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”

    That, by far, exceeded his competency, Since when can a police officer decide how “reasonable” a prosecutor may or may not be, and make public announcements about that? Clinton’s running of a private email server broke several laws. Anyone but she would have been prosecuted at least for breaching secrecy and security regulations.

    It is not the job of the police to decide about prosecutions. The police are an investigating agent of the public prosecutors office. It can make recommendations about prosecutions but not decide about them. Recommendations are to be kept confidential until they are decided upon by the relevant authority – the prosecutor.

    The formal dismissal of Comey is, in my view, the right thing to do. It should have been done earlier.

    This means, I think, that the FBI Director works for the Attorney General and defers all questions to that superior. The Attorney General who supervised James Comey, Loretta Lynch, thus had the duty of managing any investigation and making whatever decisions or public pronouncements that the situation warranted. But according to Director Comey, Loretta Lynch’s meeting with former President Bill Clinton on an airport tarmac in Arizona compromised the FBI’s image of impartiality and consequently forcced him to go public about the You-Know-Her investigation. Whatever, part of the FBI wanted a full-on, no-holds-barred investigation and part of the FBI wanted no part of any such thing, possibly fearing for their careers should You-Know-Her survive the inquiry and seek vengeance once in the Oval Office. Lots of conflicting loyalties and mixed-motives here, for sure, which eventually hoist Director Comey on his own petard, so to speak. I can’t say that I feel sorry for him.

    Personnel issues and legal technicalities aside, I still say this whole affair twists and swirls around the central issue of detente between the United States and the Russian Federation. Both countries would benefit from any sort of peaceful coexistence and could possibly cut military budgets as a result. But in the United States, literally trillions of of misspent taxpayer dollars hinge — for generations — on the outcome of this political death struggle. So it will get bloody. No doubt about it.

    The real crunch will come if Secretary of State Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov can consummate an agreement. Sergei Lavrov has already done this many times before, so he knows what to expect from Americans playing at diplomacy. He will not make any naive errors. He will remember what happened when he and Secretary of State John Kerry reached an agreement last year about joint military operations against ISIS jihadi terrorists in Syria. Almost immediately several U.S. generals started shooting off their mouths about how they didn’t plan on following any such policy and, in fact, the Pentagon launched an attack upon Syrian military forces, killing and wounding dozens of them, which immediately torpedoed the agreement. So, again, even if President Trump and Secretary Tillerson can reach an agreement with their Russian counterparts, nothing guarantees that Generals Mattis and McMasters, not to mention the other Joint Chefs of Stuff, will go along with it. Rank insubordination, if not treason, worked well for the career U.S. military institutionalists against the ineffable President Barack Obama. It now remains for the world to see if it will also work against President Donald Trump.

    FBI Director James Comey matters not one iota in the real struggle now unfolding.

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    1. Oh, yes. And as a brief follow up, I just saw a few minutes (all I can stand) of CNN International with network legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and a lady program host commiserating because FBI Director James Comey had gotten fired and — horror or horrors! — there stood President Trump in the Oval Office with not one, but two Russians: namely, their Foregn Minister and Ambassador. For his part, Mr Toobin couldn’t believe that no one said anything about the firing of James Comey. “All they talked about was Syria.”

      Well, duh …

      You just can’t make up shit like this. You have to pay it large sums of money.

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  4. It’s difficult to say what’s really going on in Trump’s White House. But it may be as simple as Trump consolidating his power. He wants loyalists, and Comey wasn’t a loyalist (nor should he have been).

    That’s Trump’s problem — he has the instincts of a petty tyrant. He surrounds himself with family members and assorted yes-men. And now his problem is our problem.

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    1. Some further thoughts on all this from Justin Raimondo of antiwar.com (May 12, 2017):

      Shut Down the ‘Russia-gate’ Farce. It’s bogus, it’s boring, and it’s hurting the country

      “… we’re now hearing a different and probably far more accurate account: the President was pissed off that Comey wasn’t investigating leaks of classified information, and was paying too much attention to the Russia probe.”

      That sounds plausible. “Investigating” what never happened with the Russians while ignoring the criminal leaking of taps on individual citizen telephone conversations — what most certainly happened with President Trump’s first National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn — won FBI Director James Comey no points with his new boss, to say the least. The Obama administration, given the same circumstances, would have dusted off the old “Espionage Act” of 1927 and viciously persecuted anyone for doing that sort of thing — without “authorization,” of course. Someone, perhaps several someones, should have gone to jail for Orwellian shit like that.

      If President Trump truly wants to pursue a policy of detente with the Russian Federation, which he ought to for the good our two countries, he will have to brutally clean out many more of his government’s neocon-infested closets than just those at the FBI. Another J. Edgar Hoover wannabe at the helm of the Furtive Bungling Idiots we do not need, nor can we likely survive.

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    2. Trump now says Comey was a “showboat” and a “grandstander.” Another case of it takes one to know one.

      It may just be that Trump concluded Comey was “not one of my guys.” Not a Trump loyalist — and too popular to boot. Taller than Trump too.

      Trump doesn’t like anyone to show him up.

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  5. A Trump tweet from October 31st 2016 – “And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad what happened originally and it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they are trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him, I was not his fan. But I’ll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

    Comey was between a rock and hard place, as different factions pushed and pulled him. Mixed in was the “coincidental” meeting with Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton at the same and place in in Phoenix. Comey was probably the classic – the enemy of my enemy is a friend. It all depended on which ox was being gored. Given that the reasons for Comey’s termination centered on his handling of the Clinton investigation. I would have to ask why it took so long?? Trump was elected back in November 2016 and took control back in January 2017.

    Trump tweet – “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony…”
    10:51 PM – 2 May 2017

    I find Trump’s statement about not being investigated by the FBI, to be transparently self-serving. This side bar mention of an investigation into Trump had nothing to do with the reasons given for Comey’s termination. Plainly stated one had nothing to do with the other.

    It is also curious and unprofessional that the letter of termination was not handed to Comey personally, before the press was alerted. Further unprofessional conduct is calling Comey out in public a showboat and grand stander. Wow!! talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

    Trump is a master in some ways at deflection. Will Trump try to find a way to reignite the investigation into the Clintons, while at the same time try squash any investigation into Trump, his family, etc??

    Bottom line – O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive! Walter Scott

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  6. I think this is informative:

    MEMORANDUM FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
    FROM: ROD J. ROSENSTEIN
    DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL
    SUBJECT: RESTORING PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN THE FBI

    The Federal Bureau of Investigation has long been regarded as our nation’s premier federal investigative agency. 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.

    The current FBI Director is an articulate and persuasive speaker about leadership and the immutable principles of the Department of Justice. He deserves our appreciation for his public service. As you and I have discussed, however, I cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken. Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.

    The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution. It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he believed Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department. There is a well-established process for other officials to step in when a conflict requires the recusal of the Attorney General. On July 5, however, the Director announced his own conclusions about the nation’s most sensitive criminal investigation, without the authorization of duly appointed Justice Department leaders.

    Compounding the error, the Director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation. Derogatory information sometimes is disclosed in the course of criminal investigations and prosecutions, but we never release it gratuitously. The Director laid out his version of the facts for the news media as if it were a closing argument, but without a trial. It is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.

    In response to skeptical questions at a congressional hearing, the Director defended his remarks by saying that his “goal was to say what is true. What did we do, what did we find, what do we think about it.” But the goal of a federal criminal investigation is not to announce our thoughts at a press conference. The goal is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to justify a federal criminal prosecution, then allow a federal prosecutor who exercises authority delegated by the Attorney General to make a prosecutorial decision, and then if prosecution is warranted — let the judge and jury determine the facts. We sometimes release information about closed investigations in appropriate ways, but the FBI does not do it sua sponte.

    Concerning his letter to the Congress on October 28, 2016, the Director cast his decision as a choice between whether he would “speak” about the decision to investigate the newly-discovered email messages or “conceal” it. “Conceal” is a loaded term that misstates the issue. When federal agents and prosecutors quietly open a criminal investigation, we are not concealing anything; we are simply following the longstanding policy that we refrain from publicizing non-public information. In that context, silence is not concealment.

    My perspective on these issues is shared by former Attorneys General and Deputy Attorneys General from different eras and both political parties. Judge Laurence Silberman, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Ford, wrote that “it is not the bureau’s responsibility to opine on whether a matter should be prosecuted.” Silberman believes that the Director’s “performance was so inappropriate for an FBI director that [he] doubt[s] the bureau will ever completely recover.” Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton, joined with Larry Thompson, Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush, to opine that the Director had “chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions.” They concluded that the Director violated his obligation to “preserve, protect and defend” the traditions of the Department and the FBI.

    Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who served under President George W. Bush, observed that the Director “stepped way outside his job in disclosing the recommendation in that fashion” because the FBI director “doesn’t make that decision.” Alberto Gonzales, who also served as Attorney General under President George W. Bush, called the decision “an error in judgment.” Eric Holder, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton and Attorney General under President Obama, said that the Director’s decision “was incorrect. It violated long-standing Justice Department policies and traditions. And it ran counter to guidance that I put in place four years ago laying out the proper way to conduct investigations during an election season.” Holder concluded that the Director “broke with these fundamental principles” and “negatively affected public trust in both the Justice Department and the FBI.”

    Former Deputy Attorneys General Gorelick and Thompson described the unusual events as “real-time, raw-take transparency taken to its illogical limit, a kind of reality TV of federal criminal investigation,” that is “antithetical to the interests of justice.”

    Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, along with other former Justice Department officials, was “astonished and perplexed” by the decision to “break[] with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections.” Ayer’s letter noted, “Perhaps most troubling … is the precedent set by this departure from the Department’s widely-respected, non-partisan traditions.”

    We should reject the departure and return to the traditions.

    Although the President has the power to remove an FBI director, the decision should not be taken lightly. I agree with the nearly unanimous opinions of former Department officials. The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions

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