There’s much we don’t know. Much we need to know. Much we may never know. But my initial reactions to the news of the James Comey firings are:
1) I disagree with many of my friends who say this termination was a long time in coming. I think many of Comey’s decisions are easily criticized. But when you look back at the decisions he made — when he made them — I believe Comey was put in one no-win situation after another, and he made defensible decisions. Hillary Clinton tested the limits of what the system would allow and she put people and institutions in an untenable position. I don’t think Comey should have been fired, but I can see the argument going the other way.
2) That said, I simply don’t buy the case made in the letter from President Trump. I am very skeptical that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was the chief driver of, or lobbyist for, this decision.
I’m also skeptical that Deputy AG Rod Rosentein — on the job for two weeks — pulled the trigger on the firing of the FBI director. This just doesn’t make any sense. Nor does the idea that Donald Trump believes that Comey’s actions during the campaign were grounds for this termination. That fuels the idea that Comey treated Hillary Clinton so unfairly (or according to some, too fairly) that he had to be fired. There’s no reason to believe Donald Trump subscribes to either view.
I suspect Trump wanted to fire Comey and that they scrambled to find a narrative to support it.
3) I keep reading that this is a “Nixonian” move. I get it. But that’s not clear. President Nixon fired people in the vain hope that he could stop the bleeding. There’s no evidence that Trump was trying to kill an investigation — yet.
4) Moreover, Nixon was a brilliant, cynical politician. I have a hard time seeing the political brilliance in this decision. Trump does not help himself with this line from his letter to Comey:
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.
I get what President Trump thinks he’s doing by saying this, but politically it’s the equivalent of saying “It’s not about the money.”
5) Also, for a guy who is clearly desperate to get people to move on from the Russia talk, Trump keeps doing things that make it easier to keep that storyline alive. The “wiretapping” tweets breathed new life into that story. But that’s nothing compared to what confirmation hearings for a new FBI director will do to that storyline.
6) Finally, this might have been the right thing to do on the merits. President Trump may even be doing this for all the right — and stated — reasons. But this, too, points to the mess Hillary Clinton created for herself and the country. If Comey needed to be fired — a defensible position — that’s downstream of the hot mess Hillary Clinton dropped on all of us.