Strictly speaking, Comey deserved to be fired. He deserved to be fired for the reasons laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his memo to his boss Jeff Sessions. Comey’s pronouncements about his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails did constitute egregiously improper intervention in an election campaign.
But it does seem unfair, doesn’t it, not to mention ironic, that Comey was fired for an impropriety by the beneficiary of that impropriety? Especially since the beneficiary—Donald Trump—had been loudly and emphatically appreciative of Comey for the very actions which allegedly motivated his dismissal. Trump even blew an air kiss to Comey at a White House event shortly after his inauguration. Literally. Clearly, this love wasn’t unconditional.
The White House would have us believe that the dismissal was a response to the recommendation of his attorney general, who in turn was advised by his deputy. That is evidently a charade. The decision to fire Comey preceded the alleged reasoning behind the firing. According to a CNN report, the Rosenstein memo was actually a response to the White House’s request for a rationale to get rid of Comey. We can’t know how much Rosenstein had to tweak or stretch his conscience to comply with that dubious request. Perhaps it helped him to be able to argue, very plausibly, that firing Comey was the right thing to do. But does anyone honestly believe that the real reason for Comey’s firing was the right reason? That the White House had suddenly come to see the offensiveness in Comey’s actions six to nine months after the fact, on being enlightened by a newly installed deputy attorney general??
It’s not hard to understand why, up till now, there were few calls for Comey’s dismissal. Republicans undoubtedly had a mixture of motives for their forbearance. Comey, after all, had served them well; he might actually have been responsible for putting their man in the White House. (No one ever said politicians have no sense of gratitude.) At the very least, Republicans would have felt a certain awkwardness in calling out Comey for having helped their side. Democrats, on the other hand, had good reason to be furious with Comey, and many were, but few were pushing for his dismissal because they had no reason to expect that any Trump-chosen replacement for Comey would be better. They were stuck with him, and had to just hope for the best.
So what was the real reason for firing Comey? We can make a reasonable attempt at inferring the motivation by considering the consequences of the act. The FBI’s investigation into the Russian connection will suffer some disruption: minimally, it will be slowed; maximally, it could be crippled. That is undoubtedly what Trump would like to see happen. It’s not hard to connect the dots. Historic analogies are always imperfect, but the analogy to the Saturday night massacre, when Nixon evoked widespread outrage for firing the special prosecutor for Watergate, is about as good as they get.
Kevin Drum’s short commentary on Comey’s firing is worth reading. Yes, the dismissal was motivated by Trump’s fury over the Russia investigation, not about screw-ups over the Clinton e-mails, but Drum thinks that the firing won’t have its intended effect:
[Trump] seems to have had no idea that firing Comey wouldn’t stop the investigation—nor that a new FBI director wouldn’t dare quash it. In fact, all the firing does is make the investigation untouchable.
Let’s hope so.