The media are in a frenzy over President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey. The original reason provided to the press was that new Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whose job includes supervision of the FBI, had decided that Comey had lost his way and no longer could properly fulfill his job. Specifically, Comey’s several public announcements concerning Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign and his disobeying then Attorney General Lynch were cited as prime causes. This didn’t pass the laugh test for so many reasons that the very next day the White House simply announced that Trump had fired Comey because “he wasn’t doing a good job.”
A more plausible story now making the rounds is that Trump wanted Comey gone because his loyalty was in question and because the FBI’s Russia probe was intensifying rather than winding up as the White House desired. The whole issue of Russian interference with our election has long been a sore point with Trump because it places a question mark around Trump’s entire presidency.
But in my opinion all of this misses a fairly obvious point. Comey was summarily fired shortly after his recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. During this hearing, Comey commented, “It makes me mildly nauseous to think I may have affected the election.” This astonishing remark by a careful bureaucrat has been widely interpreted as a process criticism. In other words, so it is believed, Comey was distraught that his public announcements may have skewed the election process in some way, even though he believed that he had no choice in the matter.
However, think how this statement surely must have impacted our notoriously thin-skinned President. Another quite plausible interpretation, and one that I believe is dispositive in the firing, is that Comey was making a criticism of the election result itself, that this was what was making him “mildly nauseous”. If I am right, Trump would have turned white-hot in anger. An employee, for that is how Trump views executive branch members, was not merely showing disloyalty but also contempt. Moreover, he is a key employee directly involved in the investigation that bedevils Trump at every turn.
That is why Comey was fired and also why it was done without notice either to Comey or to any key White House aides. Characteristically, Trump didn’t consult anyone in lashing out at Comey and thus his staff was left foundering when they attempted to deal with the quite predictable backlash.