Is President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey like the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Nixon sought to fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor? Yes, say leading Democrats, most notably David Axelrod, President Obama’s campaign strategist, Senator Elizabeth Warren, waiting in the wings for 2020, the ever-voluble Senator Chuck Schumer and their paper of record the New York Times. The Times opined the next day that the Saturday Night Massacre was “the obvious historical parallel to Mr. Trump’s action.”
When you look at the record, however, all this begins to look like a politically partisan effort to whip up mass hysteria.
The Times and the Democrats claim to believe that Comey was fired because he was investigating whether the Russian government was in collusion with Mr. Trump’s campaign, resulting in what the Times suggests was the presidency “effectively stolen by a hostile foreign power.” But as he fired Comey, President Trump noted that Comey had previously informed him on several occasions that he was not under investigation by the FBI, seeming to give the lie to the notion of such a collusion theory. More importantly, the parallel to the Saturday Night Massacre completely collapses when it is understood that highly regarded Justice Department officials are virtually uniform in the belief that Director Comey had overstepped the bounds of his office and had damaged the “reputation and the credibility” of the FBI. That’s the opposite of what happened with Nixon, and the damage was something that Comey had refused to acknowledge. This refusal, in the view of Mr. Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and the Deputy Attorney General Rod. J. Rosenstein, required Comey’s removal.
In a remarkable memo released on the day of Comey’s firing, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein described how a galaxy of Justice Department luminaries wanted Comey out. They included Judge Laurence Silberman, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Ford, Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton, Larry Thompson, Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush, Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who served under President George W. Bush, Alberto Gonzales who served as Attorney General under President George W. Bush, Eric Holder who served as Deputy Attorney General under President Clinton and Attorney General under President Obama, and Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush. All of them had been critical of Comey’s actions, and, in particular his usurpation of the prosecutorial role of the Justice Department in holding a public press conference and declaring that there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute Mrs. Clinton for violations of the nation’s national security laws, in the midst of an election contest. This violated established Justice Department procedures and standards, and also appears to have significantly adversely affected morale within the FBI itself.
Mrs. Clinton sought to use Comey’s exoneration of her as a reinforcement of her qualifications for the Presidency, but when Mr. Comey announced in late October 2016 that he had reopened his investigation, Mrs. Clinton and her advisors turned against the Director, whom Mrs. Clinton now blames (along with misogyny and the Russians) for her defeat. Mrs. Clinton lost, not because of Russian meddling of course, but because she had denounced virtually half of the electorate as “deplorables,” because she had failed effectively to campaign in several swing states, because of her own decision to use a private unsecured server for her State Department e-mails and because the allegations that she was involved in “pay to play” schemes fatally undermined her credibility as a candidate.
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein’s memo ought to be required reading for anyone who suffers from Trump Derangement Syndrome, and indeed for anyone who cares about integrity in our government. It makes clear that Comey’s firing is a good faith effort by Justice Department Officials and the new President to restore the manner in which our government is supposed to work. This is not an action that flies in the face of the advice of Attorney Generals and their deputies, but rather is an action that clearly is prompted and supported by them, by their predecessors, and by our tradition of adhering to established lines of authority and procedures. In short, of following the rule of law.
Rod Rosenstein is the number two-man in the Justice Department. Predictably, he is now under the gun from partisan voices on the left. But he is so well respected that when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russian probe last March, he asked Rosenstein to take his place. Subsequently, Rosenstein was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General in a 94-6 vote. Even Chuck Schumer attested to his reputation for integrity. If anything is threating the rule of law around here, it’s the paranoid suggestions that no one in the Justice Department can be trusted.