On Tuesday, President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that "President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions." Those recommendations in turn were based on criticism from former law enforcement officials over Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.
Though the move took nearly everyone in DC and the media business by surprise, in hindsight there were signs that Comey was on thin ice. In January, the Department of Justice said it was looking into how the FBI handled the Clinton email case, a huge source of controversy during the 2016 election. In brief, Republicans were critical of Comey for publicly declaring charges shouldn't be brought against Clinton for conducting State Department business on a private email server, a decision usually made by prosecutors, not the FBI. Meanwhile, Democrats were upset that Comey called a press conference where he said Clinton had been "extremely careless," a line Republicans used in attacks on the former secretary of state. Additionally, less than two weeks before the election, Comey announced the FBI was still investigating Clinton after finding some emails on disgraced former congressman (and husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin) Anthony Weiner's computer. Then, days later, he said the bureau's conclusions about Clinton being careless but not criminal hadn't changed after all.
These extremely unusual public statements on an investigation were denounced by many, including the Clinton campaign, as inappropriate. In Deputy AG Rosenstein's report, he slammed both the declaration Clinton shouldn't be charged and the public statements around the case. "It is a textbook declaration of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do," he said of the press conference. Rosenstein, who was appointed a US attorney by George W. Bush but stuck around under Barack Obama, quoted attorneys general who served under Democrats and Republicans, all of whom were critical of Comey.
So, accepting the conclusion that Comey was out of line during the 2016 election and that his conduct rose to the level of a fireable offense—what's up with Trump's letter to Comey? I'm talking about the short missive the president sent that was made public just as the news of the firing broke. It cites Rosenstein's report and notes that Sessions recommends Comey be fired, then informs the FBI director that "you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately." Then it gets... weird:
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.
For one, Trump doesn't mention the stated reason for the firing. For two, it seems extremely self-serving and strange for Trump to emphasize that he's not under investigation while firing one of the nation's top law enforcement officials. For three, only weeks ago Comey announced publicly that the FBI was, in fact, looking into ties between the Trump campaign (though not necessarily Trump himself) and Russian agents attempting to influence the election.
So, that's odd! Guess we'll know more soon.
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