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