James Comey has been fired. Before too long, the United States will have a new F.B.I. director.
There are a number of ways that one can look at this news. Those who are convinced that Trump is building a dictatorship will assume that Comey was fired because he got too close to the finding the “smoking gun” that allegedly links Trump to Russia. Those for whom Trump can do no wrong will assume that the president is merely “draining the swamp.” Everyone else will fall somewhere in the middle.
And for defensible reasons, for the justification that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein presented was persuasive indeed. Rosenstein charged at length that Comey “was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution.” As a result, Rosenstein proposed, the “reputation and credibility” of the FBI has suffered “considerable damage.” Why did Trump delay the move until now? It’s possible, Jonathan Turley suggests, that the administration “waited for the Deputy Attorney General to be confirmed to allow a career prosecutor to review the matter and to concur with the decision.”
Whatever the truth of it, it strikes me that the key here is what happens next. If Trump replaces Comey with a well-respected career agent — and if he does so to bipartisan congratulation — the anger that we are seeing now will be proven premature. If, by contrast, he recruits the Republican Senate to his cause and installs a partisan crony who is sure to leave him well alone, there will be significant cause for concern. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with the president removing the director of the F.B.I.; indeed, in different circumstances President Bill Clinton did just that in 1993. But if he does so in order to prevent his own investigation . . . well, that’s the time to panic. How we should react to this news will be driven by what happens next. If they wish to retain their sanity, the more careful observers among us should keep their powder dry.