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The Second Day of the Comey Firing

Tuesday’s big story about President Donald Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey inevitably led to a lot more stories on Wednesday. None of them made anyone look very good, but on the whole Trump seems to have had the worst of it.
There’s a strong case to be made for the firing of Comey, whose erratic performance over the course of a crazy election year outraged Democrats and then Republicans and then Democrats again, but that was lost in the blizzard of new bulletins. The New York Times reported that Comey’s firing came shortly after he requested more resources for an ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and its possible collusion with Trump’s campaign, The Washington Post reported that Trump was furious that Comey hadn’t corroborated his “tweeted” claim that President Barack Obama had tapped the phones at Trump Tower, and everybody was reporting that some prominent Republicans were also declining to come to Trump’s defense.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration struggled to amount a defense of its own. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was spotted hiding from reporters behind some bushes before offering a few answers that suggested he hadn’t been expecting Tuesday’s announcement or Wednesday’s revelations, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed Comey’s firing to the “atrocities” he’d committed while investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and occasional spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s first response to a montage of candidate’s Trump’s effusive campaign trail praise for how nicely Comey had handled the matter was to remind her questioner that Trump won Michigan. They all rightly noted that most Democrats were eager for Comey to be fired until Trump did it, but it’s hard to believe that Trump did it for the reasons the Democrats wanted, and at this point there seems plenty of hypocrisy to go around.
Trump himself, who only had an ill-timed meeting with a high-ranking Russian official on the daily schedule, spent much of Wednesday “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against his Democratic critics. He responded to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by “tweeting” that “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant.” After Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal appeared on a cable news show offering his own criticisms, Trump responded that “‘Richie’ devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For years, as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam — except he was never there. When caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness … and now he is judge & jury. He should be the one who is investigated for his acts.”
Trump is inarguably right about Schumer’s past criticisms of Comey, but Schumer is surely entitled to “tweet” back a taunt about Trump’s past praise, although we’d advise to him avoid any insulting nicknames. Trump’s also inarguably right that Comey was caught lying about his service record seven years ago, and although we don’t recall him “crying like a baby” he did indeed offer an apology that the voters of his state apparently accepted, and as much as we also dislike the guy we can’t see why a further investigation is now warranted. In any case, making these Democrats look bad doesn’t Trump or his decision to fire Comey look any better. The only “tweet” that made an affirmative case for firing said “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me.”

That’s not a bad summation of the case, which requires more characters than “tweeting” allows to be persuasively made, but it’s hard to imagine when things might calm down over the next four years or anytime in the coming millennia when everyone will be thanking Trump for anything. Trump’s most die-hard supporters will dismiss anything from “The New York Slimes,” but the paper’s report has four on-the-record congressional sources, including a Republican, hasn’t been denied by anyone at the White House, and anyone who isn’t a die-hard Trump supporters will likely find that it raises some interesting questions that Trump and his spokespeople will have trouble answering. The talk radio hosts and their listeners will dismiss anything from “The Washington Compost,” but even they won’t believe that Trump wasn’t angry about Comey not going along with wiretapping claim, or mind if that was a reason for firing, and everyone else will note that nobody has come forward to corroborate those damning “tweets.” Some of the Republicans who are distancing themselves from the matter are running for re-election in jurisdictions where Trump is not popular, and given the latest national polls more are likely to follow.
Still, Trump was inarguably within his legal rights to fire Comey, and did have reasons for doing so that all those Democrats had previously agreed with, and it might yet work out for the best, and it’s also possible that Trump or someone speaking on his behalf will effectively make those arguments. If he thought the decision would be immediately met with bipartisan praise he was clearly wrong, though, and if he thought it would put an end to all that chatter about the Russians meddling in the election and the Trump campaign being somehow involved he was even more wrong. The next news cycle is going to involve a lot of explaining, and the one after that will also be troublesome.
Up next is Trump’s nominee to replace Comey, and whoever that turns out to be is going to be subjected to such severe scrutiny he or she is unlikely to come out of it looking pristine. If he or she seems the least bit interested in revisiting Clinton’s e-mail practices or entirely dismissive of the idea that Trump’s campaign might have been involved in Russia’s role in the past election that’s going to be a public relations problem for Trump, and if they aren’t that’s yet another problem. All those questions about Russia won’t go away until they’re definitively answered, which will require answers from someone who’s somehow untainted by all of this and has been given access to all the tax returns and financial disclosures and immunity-granted testimony that might involved, and at this point we can’t imagine who that person might be.

— Bud Norman

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Comey’s Firing Is So Damned Complicated

Pretty much all the news these days is reported through the prism of President Donald Trump versus the Democrats, which makes the big story about Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey pretty damned complicated for just about everyone. Over his long and mostly distinguished career Comey has been a villain to both the right and left wings of American politics, and during the last couple of undeniably disastrous years he’s played both roles from month to month, so by the time he got fired no one seemed to like him.
As a young rising U.S. Attorney Comey was frequently promoted by the administration of Republican George W. Bush by vigorously investigating the pardon that Democratic President Bill Clinton had scandalously granted the con man and big-time Democratic campaign contributor Marc Rich and other matters dear to Republican hearts, then clashed with the Bush administration over surveillance matters and so endeared himself to the subsequent administration of Democratic President Barack Obama that he wound up running the FBI. In that capacity he wound up heading an investigation into the highly dubious e-mail practices of former Obama administration Secretary of State and sudden Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and at that point things got even more damned complicated.
In the middle of the messiest American presidential election ever the FBI director held a press conference to announce that he was not recommending criminal charges against the Democratic nominee, which deeply disappointed all the Republicans, but he also noted that the Democratic nominee had been darned careless about national security and plausibly implied that Republican-appointed prosecutors might have found a case against her, which the Democrats could still spin as a win but didn’t fully satisfy them. As the election grew nearer Comey had another press conference to announce that the investigation was back on after some of the Democratic nominee’s classified e-mails had been found on the laptop of close aide’s notorious sex-fiend husband, who had been targeted in a separate and even tawdrier investigation, and although Comey again fell short of recommending a prosecution and the Republicans were again disappointed that no charges were filed the Democratic nominee is still plausibly able to blame her loss to the likes of Trump on Comey’s 11th hour revelations.
All of which makes Comey’s firing pretty damned complicated, for everybody involved, but it’s actually even more complicated than that. Over at The Washington Post the front page headlines explains that “Democrats hate James Comey. But they hate the fact Trump fired him even more,” and all sorts of Republicans should have similarly conflicted feelings. The deputy attorney general who joined in with several other high-ranking officials in calling for Comey’s firing wrote that “Almost everyone agrees that the director has made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that united people of different perspectives,” and although that’s true enough the Republicans also have plenty to worry about.
Any president is perfectly entitled by law and precedent to fire an FBI director for any old reason, although they have rarely done so, and given all the grousing that both Republicans and Democrats have lately been doing Comey it’s hard for anybody to argue that there’s insufficient reason now, which should get Trump through the next 24-hour news cycle, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Trump’s catchphrase “you’re fired” letter to Comey thanked him for his many mostly distinguished years of public service and included his personal thanks for the three separate occasions when Comey said that Trump wasn’t under FBI investigation, but the previous day’s big story was the testimony of a fired acting attorney general and a former national intelligence director that it would divulge classified intelligence to deny that there are also ongoing investigations into people closely involved in the Trump campaign regarding the Russians’ plausibly alleged meddling in the election, which also plausibly played a part in the outcome. That’s enough for the Democrats to peg a story or two on, and they’re bound to last past the next 24-hour news cycle.
Trump should weather the inevitable storm about the firing without any damage to his poll numbers, but who he hires as a replacement will be subjected to the most extreme scrutiny by almost everyone except his most loyal supporters. If the nominee seems eager to revisit the Clinton charges even after she was sentenced to the hell of losing to the likes to Trump that will invigorate most Democrats, and if he or she ¬†seems uninterested in the ongoing investigation about Trump’s associates and their dealing with the Russians who do at this point seem have meddled in the election on Trump’s behalf, we expect Trump will suffer yet another 24-hour news cycle or more.
However it turns out, from our vantage point on the political sidelines we’ll be among the few wishing Comey a happy and blissfully boring retirement. Most of his long career was distinguished, with all of his bi-partisan offenses against both Republican and Democratic sensibilities being arguably justified, and as awful as he’s undeniably been to almost everybody over the last couple of years we can’t think of anyone who’s come out of that dreadful timespan smelling like a rose. We wish well to anyone who replaces him, too, but we’d warn him or her that after such an awful election its going to be damned complicated.

— Bud Norman

The Next Famous Director of the FBI

We’re old enough to remember a time when J. Edgar Hoover was not only every bit as famous as Johnny Carson or Spiro Agnew or Tiny Tim, but was even as legendary a character as Wyatt Earp or Gen. Douglas MacArthur or the cross-dressing Z-movie director Ed Wood. Hoover earned his renown, or notoriety, depending on which side of the vast political chasm of the time you were on, as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and although even such politically-obsessed sorts as ourselves would be hard-pressed to name a single FBI director since then we suspect that Jim Comey is about to achieve a similar household-name status.
Comey’s FBI is so clearly and undeniably no matter what she says closing in on an investigation of possible multiple oh-my-God sorts of felonies against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices and charitable work that even such polite media as Time Magazine acknowledges it, and Comey is quite publicly playing a leading role in the matter. Because Clinton is also the more-or-less-front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race, this will eventually require the attention of even the very most polite media. The whole problem could easily be resolved by a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President and a mostly politely Democratic media all agreeing that there’s nothing to see here, and that might yet happen, but this Comey guy strikes as one of those intriguing characters that occasionally gum up the works.
The cynical assumption on both the left and the right is that eventually a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President won’t file charges against a more-or-less-front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that the mostly politely Democratic media and eventually the rest of the nation will agree that there’s nothing to see here, seems reasonable. This Comey fellow, though, has a long history of being admirably unreasonable. He first tangled with the Clintons as a deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he made a case that Hillary Clinton had mishandled documents and ordered others to do so constituting a “highly improper pattern of deliberate misconduct,” which endeared him to the subsequent George W. Bush administration to earn a high post there, but when he was serving as acting Attorney General during a health emergency by John Ashcroft and refused to sign on to a controversial surveillance program and later challenged other Bush policies he so endeared himself to Bush’s subsequent successor that he was named FBI director. Since then he’s been an admirable pain in the posterior to the Obama administration, offering frank testimony to Congress about Syrian refugees and policing that undercut the president, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t gum up the works yet again.
If he brings a convincing case against Clinton, or at least one as convincing as the most polite media have already been forced to acknowledge, it will surely shake up the most shaken presidential race of our long recollection. Even if the Democratic Attorney General appointed by the Democratic President with the blessings of the mostly politely Democratic media decide there’s nothing to see here, Comey seems likely to continue to his very public role in the investigation, but if he chooses to do so we wish him well in the effort. Such a quixotic quest against the Clintons would surely entail some controversy, and even the Republican security hawks would find something to dislike, but that goes with the territory. J. Edgar Hoover was a household name long before our birth, and his crazy career included something for both and liberals and conservatives to celebrate and loathe, much like MacArthur or Johnny Carson or our hometown bully-boy sheriff Wyatt Earp or any of those other childhood icons we could never quite settle on, so we hold out hope that Comey is cut from from the same crazy quilt.

— Bud Norman

As the Sands of the Hourglass, So are the Days of the Democrats

The Republican Party’s reality show is getting the bigger ratings and all the critical attention, but the Democrats’ presidential nomination race is also well worth binge-watching. In case you’ve missed the more recent gripping episodes, there’s now a tantalizing possibility that the heroine of the tale will face federal indictment on criminal charges, her husband’s past and recent sex scandals are starting to affect the plot, the lovably eccentric kook who was once a minor comic-relief character is now within striking distance of her in all the polls, and there’s enough behind-the-scenes court intrigue to fuel another few seasons of “The Tudors” and “House of Cards.”
Although the lovably eccentric kook who was originally included for only comic relief has generously declared that he’s “damned sick and tired” of hearing about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which viewers might recall from previous episodes were transmitted by an unsecured and seemingly illegal private server, the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps anonymously leaking to the press and openly testifying to Congress that they remain very interested in the matter. The latest news has the FBI leaking that they’re also looking into the big-bucks donations from foreign countries that were flowing into the Bill and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation while the eponymous Hillary was dealing with those same foreign countries as Secretary of State, and a best-selling book and a large number of reports indicate there is also something of interest to be found there. No matter what is uncovered by the investigation an indictment will have to be brought by an Attorney General appointed by President Barack Obama, who still looms as large as the Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi characters from the all-important prequels, depending on your tastes, which makes for some darned intriguing court intrigue.
Almost all of our Republican friends glumly assume that no Obama appointee would ever allow even the most undeniably evidence-backed federal indictment on criminal charges against a prominent Democrat, especially the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and even more especially one named Clinton, and the long-awaited First Woman President, at that, and most of our Democrat friends gleefully make the assumption. Their glum and gleeful cynicism might well prove justified, given the conspicuous lack of indictments in countless scandals that the press would have happily made a federal case of during Republican administrations, from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to that Obamacare web site to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives and right up to Clinton’s e-mailing and fund-raising methods, but by now we’re cynical enough to hold out hope for one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction plot twists.
Having followed the soon-to-close but still-awaiting-that-final-cliffhanger Obama reality show over the past eight years or so, we’ve long noticed that he doesn’t much like any of the Clintons and is quite petty enough to let such personal dislikes affect his judgments. Nor does he seem to have any loyalty to his political party, which has been reduced to 1920s-levels in Congress and state legislatures and governorships even as he has seized unprecedented presidential powers, and his press spokespeople and his equally dutiful press people have strangely silent about Clinton’s legal matters. An indictment could either usher in a Republican presidency, which could be easily blamed for everything that happens in the four-year aftermath of the Obama administration, or hands the Democratic nomination to that lovable kook or any of the other Obama-approved eccentrics who have been waiting in the wings, and they somehow prevail over some equally unpopular Republican villain to institute yet another four years of left-wing craziness, and in either case Obama’s purposes are served. We’re not making any predictions, but it’s tantalizingly possible enough to keep us tuned in.
In any case, it signals more perils for the Pauline heroine of the Democrats’ reality show. We no longer cling to any boyish fantasy that the FBI is staffed by the likes of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Jimmy Stewart, but given the agency’s recent leakiness there is reason to hope that they’ll at least let some enterprising reporter or another know about they case they’ve built, which is sure to be unhelpful to Clinton’s candidacy. The cynics in both parties will glumly and gleefully note that Clinton’s have always gotten away with everything, and all the shrewd gamblers have always advised to never bet against a streak, but our cynicism is such that we glumly note that time changes everything. The Bill Clinton sex scandals that were easily overlooked during the cultural right scare of the ’90s aren’t so easily forgiven in the ‘teens, when Democrats believe a “culture of rape” is permeating the undeniably leftist-dominated campuses but not the town squares of European cities suddenly overrun by immigration from less feminist cultures that best go unnamed, and the Republican front-runner is a thrice-married casino mogul who can’t quote a single Bible verse, and suddenly that whole “war on women” that the distaff Clinton was supposed to win seems laughable. Besides, the masculine Clinton is best remembered for the Welfare Reform Act he was forced to sign and President Obama unraveled with executive orders, and the decrease in crime that resulted “mass incarceration” laws that are now the bane of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and for Republican-imposed balanced budgets that Democrats no longer care about.
Throw in the fact that in the Democratic voters are now mostly concerned about income inequality and those evil bastards on Wall Street, and it’s no surprise that the lovable kook and self-described socialist and relatively penurious Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is now catching up in the national polls and within striking distance in the first two crucial rounds of the race of the suspiciously wealthy and Wall Street-supported “front-runner.” Once the supposed front-runner is either indicted on federal criminal charges or not indicted for the most obviously suspicious reasons, you’ve got a real race going on rather than the promised coronation. Even the most polite press can’t help noticing such things, and hopefully speculating about some eccentric waiting on the wings to inherit Obama’s still on-going campaign operation, and of course that will further twist the plot.
There’s plenty of drama left on the Republican side, where another character unpopular with the broader audience seems to be winning, but these Democrats are well worth watching.

— Bud Norman