James Comey

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Comey Dismissal Sparks Outrage in Congress

| published May 10, 2017 |

By Thursday Review editors and staff

In what is arguably his most controversial and explosive executive action to date, President Donald Trump dismissed FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, ostensibly bringing to an end months of federal law enforcement probes into links between top Trump campaign officials and Moscow, and—the White House hopes—an end to an extensive investigation into whether Russia interfered directly in the 2016 elections.

The decision to fire Comey came just hours before it was revealed that the President had scheduled meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislak, and other top Russian officials at the White House this week—talks in which a variety of topics will be discussed, including Syria, North Korea, and Russian military build-ups in Arctic areas.

Defending the decision to reporters on Wednesday, deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that the President deemed Comey’s job performance as weak, and characterized some of Comey’s missteps as “atrocities.” Sanders also told reporters that Comey had acted improperly on some issues and had circumvented the chain of command on others.

The decision to dismiss Comey may have come after a series of meetings with top Department of Justice officials in the White House on Monday, though many staffers in the White House were apparently unaware of any plan to dump Comey. In a brief response to reporters on Wednesday, Trump confirmed his own belief that Comey was not performing his job adequately.

As recently as Monday, Comey had requested additional resources to expand and deepen the FBI investigation into the links between Russia and Trump campaign officials. That request, some sources suggest, triggered the meeting between Trump and top Department of Justice officials.

Reaction in Congress and in Washington was mixed but swift, with many Democrats expressing outrage at Comey’s summary firing, and some Republican leaders worried that Comey’s dismissal will raise still more questions about a growing list of interconnections between some of Trump’s top advisors and campaign officials, and Moscow. Several Democrats called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to look into not only the issue of both the Trump administration’s apparent closeness to the government of Vladimir Putin, as well as the decision-making process behind Comey’s sudden dismissal. At least eight Republicans in the Senate also called for the creation of an office of special counsel to investigate.

Though candidate Trump was seen to have benefitted greatly from the FBI’s long investigation into then-candidate Hillary Clinton and her use of a private, unsecured server and unsecured email account used while she served as Secretary of State, the White House has become increasingly frustrated by the heavy media attention given to a probe headed by Comey and scores of FBI investigators.

President Trump issued a letter to the FBI and to Mr. Comey explaining his decision, and citing what the President said were three occasions in which Comey stated—in writing—that Trump was not personally under investigation, the President suggested that others within the FBI have concluded that as director, Comey has “been unable to effectively lead the Bureau.” The letter did not specify the identity of the dissenters within the FBI, nor did it spell out the occasions on which Comey proclaimed in writing that Mr. Trump is not under investigation.

Media sources have said that those within the Justice Department who pushed for Mr. Comey’s immediate dismissal were Attorney General Jeff Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. Other Washington analysts believe, however, that Trump personally, along with several of his top staff, had grown weary of the Russia investigations and sought to cut any further inquiry short by simply dismissing Comey

The announcement that the President was firing Comey came just one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told Congress that she had explicitly warned the new Trump administration that Michael Flynn—Trump’s first National Security Advisor, dismissed from his job earlier this spring—had close and traceable connections to the Russian ambassador and other top Russian officials. Flynn had also received payment from Russian groups for speaking engagements and consulting—facts he did not fully disclosed while being vetted for the post of National Security Advisor.

Comey’s firing also came only a few days after he also appeared before Congress to explain that the investigation into possible Russian hacking of voter databases and Russian meddling in the 2016 election was ongoing, as well as subject to expansion—a reference to his pending request for additional resouces.

Though many Democrats in Congress were quick to pounce on what they regard as a constitutional crisis—some have likened Comey’s sudden firing to Richard Nixon’s decision to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox at the height of the Watergate investigations—dozens of Republicans have expressed their own concerns about both the timing of Comey’s dismissal as well as the explanations being offered by the White House.

Justin Amash of Michigan said he supports the creation of an independent commission—a body not the same as a special prosecutor—to look into whether Moscow exerted influence over the 2016 election and to determine the extent to which Trump campaign officials collaborated with Russia. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) also expressed concern over Comey’s firing, and told reporters he can find no justification or rationale in neither the timing nor the reasons for the dismissal.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, who served as Clinton’s running-mate in 2016, said that Comey’s firing was prima face evidence that some in the Trump administration are afraid of a full-on investigation into the Russia-election links.

Trump has taken to social media to complain that the investigations into alleged Trump campaign-Russia connections are distracting from his agenda. Monday on Twitter, Trump called the Russia story “a total hoax,” and demanded that taxpayer funds no longer be used to pursue the probe.

In the meantime, according to several media sources, Comey has been invited to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee as early as next week. The news of Comey’s planned appearance in front of the Senate came by way of Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who told several reporters that the committee would like Comey’s frank views on both the Russia-Trump connections, but also a deeper understanding of Comey’s investigative processes during the FBI’s probes into Russian hacking during 2015 and 2016.

Only weeks ago, Hillary Clinton complained to a large audience that Comey’s investigations into her email account during her tenure as Secretary of State may have been the pivotal reason she lost the election in 2016.

Comey, 56, became FBI Director in September of 2013 when then-President Barack Obama tapped Comey to replace outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller. Comey was not in Washington when he learned that he was to be terminated; he was instead at a speaking engagement at the FBI headquarters in Los Angeles when the news of his dismissal arrived. Comey was forced to cut short his visit and return to Washington, D.C. According to federal rules and FBI guidelines, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe becomes the acting director until the President chooses a candidate to succeed the departing director, and until the U.S. Senate confirms the Presidential appointment.

Related Thursday Review articles:

FBI Decision on Clinton Emails Sparks Two Stories; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; July 6, 2016.

New Email Problems May Dog Clinton Through Election Day; Thursday Review staff writers; Thursday Review; October 30, 2016.