“It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election,” FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee less than two weeks ago. Hearing Comey supercilious testimony, made me, well, mildly nauseous.
Mr. Comey was speaking about his unilateral decision to publicly reopen the investigation of Hillary Clinton on October 29, just ten days before the election. That pre-election announcement and the specter of evil Russians are why Hillary lost, we are told (by Hillary). Let’s forget her lack of appeal, her disconnect with much of America, her inept campaign, especially her dissing of Michigan and Wisconsin.
“But honestly, it [the alleged Comey effect on the election outcome] wouldn’t change the decision [I made],” Comey added. Indeed, in his ultimate chutzpah-hubris, Comey also refused to recant his preposterous news conference of July 5. At that time he had provided all the reasons why Hillary should be indicted and prosecuted and then, usurping the role of the Department of Justice, Comey violated historic protocols and, in a non-sequitur for the history books, gave her a get-out-of-jail-free card.
That was then, this is now. If you believe the media, Trump’s firing of Comey somehow threatens the rule of law, though Trump had the right to fire him. The same Democrats who repeatedly and strongly urged that Comey be fired, condemn Trump for “the suspicious timing.” The patronizing Adam Schiff, arguably the most pompous member of Congress, said the reason for the firing was Trump’s alleged ties to Russia. A former prosecutor who knows better, Schiff routinely makes charges without proof, but he does so with gravitas.
“Comey was fired because of the Russians,” also observed Pocahontas, aka Sen. Elizabeth Warren, perennially self-righteous. Warren became a professor at Harvard Law School because she described herself as of Cherokee and Delaware Indian ancestry; she is neither. Of dubious credibility, she joins the chorus: “We need a special prosecutor!” Over more than four decades, “special” prosecutors have acted like IRS agents who, after an exhaustive taxpayer audit, find nothing. But to validate their time, the agents nonetheless pressure the taxpayer into a “settlement.” In other words, if a special prosecutor finds no crimes related to Trump and “the Russians,” he will ask for an expanded budget and prosecute someone connected to Trump… for something.
“He’s a showboat, a grandstander,” Trump has said of Comey. Trump’s detractors would say, “It takes one to know one.” But Trump got it right. Comey became (per Simon Cowell) “self-indulgent.” His firing was overdue, yet with no expiration date.
But Trump’s dismissal of Comey was awkward; let us count the ways.
Trump’s senior staff remains dysfunctional, evidenced by self-serving leaks from rivals, not all of them Trump’s fiduciaries. Intent on discharging Comey, Trump thus feared premature ejaculation. Avoiding tactical if not strategic proofreading, Trump seemed to act not deliberatively (i.e., presidential), but impulsively; then oddly, he seemed to be genuinely surprised at the uproar. He and his team would evolve a contradictory and implausible narrative. Even Vice President Mike Pence continually said President Trump “showed leadership” by acting quickly after reading Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein’s memorandum faulting Comey’s performance, but then President Trump said he had already made up his mind to fire Comey. Everyone should have been on the same page, from the outset, but no one knew the page number, much less what was on it.
Spicer, President Trump more recently said, is “doing a good job but he gets beat up.” In reality, Spicer and his deputy Sarah Huckabee Sanders cannot do their job if the storyline keeps changing, and especially if Spicer does not have access to Trump before airtime. Now Trump says he works so fast that White House briefings are obsolete. But in firing Comey, the dictum should have been, “This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein’s memorandum to AG Jeff Sessions made the case for Comey’s dismissal. But it was dated the same day that Sessions then (immediately?) wrote to POTUS who then (straightaway?) wrote Comey’s farewell, and (without pausing?) dispatched his long-time personal aide to deliver that termination letter to Comey. Except that Comey had flown on the FBI jet to Los Angeles, the sanctuary city where you press “2” if you want to hear a city message in English (just kidding). Here leaders are passing a municipal decree to implant the scarlet letter on any minor subcontractor on Trump’s wall (not kidding). The politically correct Comey was at the Los Angeles FBI field office, speaking to agents not about such trivial matters as terrorism or cyber warfare, but the far more urgent matter of diversity. As Comey spoke, the agents saw the news of his firing on a television screen behind the needlessly humiliated Comey.
Let’s now talk Russia. All we know (so far) suggests that Putin preferred Trump to Hillary, and that the Russians hacked Hillary’s campaign to hurt her. No evidence suggests collusion or complicity between Trump and his campaign… and Putin and his operatives, nor acts that are illegal. Yet, as one observer noted, “Trump seems to act like he’s guilty.” Meanwhile, the mainstream media has kept the Russia story alive, because its agenda is to question the legitimacy of Trump’s election. Major media outlets repeatedly relate gossip as fact. For example, Comey supposedly asked for more money to investigate Trump, who then sacked him. But this turned out to be fake news. The real news, the media reported last week, is that Trump is served two scoops of ice cream for dessert, while his White House guests get only one. CNN noted that Abby Grace, age 9, who lives next door to Comey in McLean, Virginia baked him chocolate chip cookies to cheer him up.
There is no evidence to suggest that Trump’s dismissal of Comey was to “obstruct” the FBI investigation; it continues, with no shortage of agents or budget. If Trump were trying to shut down the investigation, firing Comey guaranteed it will continue, robustly, and all eyes will focus on Comey’s successor, who will be under pressure, in confirmation hearings, and on the job, to insure an independent investigation.
Here’s what probably happened. Trump has become increasingly agitated because: (a) Comey did not move the FBI “Russia” investigation toward closure, but made it open-ended; (b) Comey is a loose cannon, which is different than being independent; (c) Comey showed little inclination to investigate illegal leaks by government officials intent on subverting the Trump presidency; and, most egregiously: (d) Comey implied that Trump’s reelection made Comey nauseous.
There was no good time to fire Comey, but there was a better way. Ask the respected Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to prepare his memo; wait at least a day for AG Jeff Sessions to react, then on the third day either give Comey a chance to resign, or fire him, but do so privately. Already have a list of possible replacements, then interview them, all within 72 hours of Comey’s firing, and appoint his successor a day after the last interview, to make the FBI Director the story and Comey “old news.”
The rationale for Comey’s firing should have been that Comey’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was unacceptable, especially his intransigent refusal to acknowledge his bad judgment last year. Therefore, the president, who has for a couple of weeks been pondering Mr. Comey’s future, now accepts the deputy attorney general conclusion, spurred by the testimony. And similarly, President Trump lacks confidence in Comey, so he can no longer serve as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Talking points should have been developed before Comey’s dismissal.
In this drama, some of the principals may be vulnerable to prosecution. From what we know, Gen. Mike Flynn may have violated some laws relating to disclosure to government agencies. But Mike Flynn is no longer with the administration. And by all accounts, Flynn also failed to disclose material information to candidate Trump and his campaign. Paul Manafort, whose foreign clients included Russian proxies, was asked by Trump to oversee the convention after Ted Cruz was using the rules to pick up delegates. But Manafort was dismissed soon after the convention. And Roger Stone, another alleged link to the Russians, has joyfully volunteered to testify publicly, without immunity. That’s not what guilty conspirators do.
All this raises the question of context. If President Donald Trump is the “Manchurian candidate” — then why was Donald Trump so obvious about it during the campaign? That is, if Trump were a covert operative for Putin, why would he go public about it in his campaign, praising Putin and urging rapprochement with Russia? In other words, if the Russians influenced or bribed Donald Trump and his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, with loans and business deals, why not wait until after Trump becomes president to embrace Putin and Russia? Why tip your hand throughout the campaign?
The answer is not elusive, because we can observe the Trump Administration. President Trump’s principal foreign policy appointments have been unsympathetic to Putin. Hardliners in the U.S. Senate do not detect softness in U.S. policy toward Russia. Trump seems reassuring of our NATO allies that the U.S. will join NATO to resist regional Russian aggression. The U.S. is confronting Russian air incursions, especially near Alaska. And in Putin’s most dramatic foreign adventure — in Syria — President Trump ordered a symbolic air strike against Putin’s proxy, Bashar Assad. Is all this a head-fake? I think not.
But at the end of the day, what counts is perception, not reality. Perhaps one-third of the nation sees Trump as some kind of savior. And maybe another third is comprised of unrepentant Trump haters. That leaves a likely third of the nation that is increasingly restless with drama, instead of policy. And the latest episode is the James Comey soap opera.
Putin said something like, “Once a KGB guy, always a KGB guy.” The KGB has placed within the U.S. government over the years a number of home-grown operatives, via blackmail, or by providing sexual favors or money, or feeding their ego. Some of these moles have simply been dupes. What we know is that the KGB would not discredit them in advance. If President Trump was sympathetic toward better relations with Russia, not because he was complicit with Russia, but because he thought it was in the best interest of the U.S., why would President Trump obsess about such a policy, if it would discredit that policy in advance? He was quite transparent about his views.
Indeed, the disposition of President Trump’s policy toward Russia is this: his campaign pronouncements have put him and his administration on the spot. If anything, he may now go overboard in demonstrating “firmness” and “toughness” against Putin and Russia. And similarly, given the sacking of Comey, what happens now with the FBI — can it be seen as “soft” on investigating “Trump and Russia” — whatever that means?
Sooner than later, perhaps imminently, President Donald Trump will name a new FBI director. For his sake, and more importantly for the nation, let’s hope he avoids a partisan. If he chooses a man or woman of unquestionable integrity and demonstrated judgment who pledges to be independent of politics, President Trump will implicitly refute the challenge to his legitimacy.