From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt…
Let’s look back to January 24, 2017:
When Mr. Comey and the president-elect met at Trump Tower for the first time this month for an intelligence briefing, Mr. Trump told the F.B.I. director that he hoped he would remain in his position, according to people briefed on the matter. And Mr. Trump’s aides have made it clear to Mr. Comey that the president does not plan to ask him to leave, these people said.
If President Trump was really bothered by how FBI Director James Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails – and recall he praised the director’s decisions on the campaign trail last autumn – then the normal, sensible thing would have been to let Comey know there was an intention to make a change during the transition.
Even if Trump found himself disappointed with Comey’s performance once he was in the Oval Office, a normal administration gets their ducks in a row before making a big, dramatic step like this. The arguments and justification for the move are put in place and on paper. Talking points are distributed. Rumors often leak. Replacement names start to surface. A figure on his way out, like Comey, starts to read the handwriting on the wall. By the time the announcement is made, it’s almost old news; everyone’s had time to acclimate to the change.
Not in this administration. In the Trump administration, even the White House staff get blindsided:
The news stunned Comey, who saw his dismissal on TV while speaking inside the FBI office in Los Angeles. It startled all but the uppermost ring of White House advisers, who said grumbling about Comey hadn’t dominated their own morning senior staff meetings. Other top officials learned just before it happened and were unaware he was considering firing Comey. “Nobody really knew,” one senior White House official said. “Our phones all buzzed and people said, What?”…
By Tuesday evening, the president was watching the coverage of his decision and frustrated no one was on TV defending him, a White House official said. He wanted surrogates out there beating the drum.
Instead, advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up. “How are you not defending your position for three solid hours on TV?” the White House aide said.
Even if you’re a diehard fan of Trump, you have to concede he’s being poorly served by his staff, if they’re allowing presidential decisions to be enacted this quickly and haphazardly. (According to the New York Times, chief of staff Reince Priebus disagreed with the decision and managed to briefly delay it.)
How could anyone at the White House possibly not grasp that firing an FBI Director will be a supremely controversial decision? The only other time a president asked an FBI Director to step down was in William Sessions in 1993, and that was after a report by Attorney General William P. Barr that found…
Sessions falsely claimed a tax exemption on the home-to-work use of his official limousine, billed the Government for personal trips on Federal Bureau of Investigation aircraft, built a security fence for his home at Government expense and did not cooperate with investigators looking into accusations that he received special treatment from a bank on his mortgage loan for his house in Washington.
It’s much easier to justify a firing when you’ve got a list of ethics problems!
Last night, we learned that the administration was so sloppy, that Trump’s decision leaked to the media before the letter firing Comey was delivered to the FBI; the director learned by watching television and initially thought it was a prank.
What’s more, it seems clear that the Trump administration doesn’t have any particular replacement candidates in line. The administration looks amateurish, erratic and disorganized.
You can throw “FBI Director” atop the long list of law enforcement leadership positions that are still waiting for a nominee from the White House. President Trump hasn’t yet named a nominee for the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or the chief administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, or the Director of the U.S. Marshals Service. Elsewhere in the Department of Justice, Trump hasn’t nominated anyone to be the assistant attorney general for the national security division, assistant attorney general for the criminal division, or a DHS Assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
We’re approaching mid-May.