Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey write: Make no mistake: The firing of James Comey as FBI director is a stunning event. It is a profoundly dangerous thing—a move that puts the Trump-Russia investigation in immediate jeopardy and removes from the investigative hierarchy the one senior official whom President Trump did not appoint and one who is known to stand up to power. One of the biggest dangers of Comey’s firing is that Trump might actually get away with it, ironically, because of Comey’s unpopularity among Democrats and on the political left.
We warned about this danger immediately after the election.
On November 10, we wrote that that Trump’s firing of Comey would be a “a clear bellwether to both the national security and civil libertarian communities that things are going terribly wrong.” At the time we wrote those words, Comey was deeply unpopular with both the Left, which blamed Hillary Clinton’s defeat on his eleventh hour letter to Congress, and the Right, which criticized his decision to recommend that Clinton not be charged over her handling of government emails. Whatever the merit of Comey’s actions during the campaign, the fact that he managed to anger both sides of the political spectrum demonstrated his storied political independence. And that political independence, we argued, would serve as a critical check against any efforts on the part of President Trump to trample the rule of law.
The FBI Director serves a ten-year term precisely in order to insulate against the whims of a President who does not like what—or whom—the FBI is investigating. While the President has legal authority to fire an FBI director, the fact that Trump has done so under circumstances of an active FBI investigation of the President’s own campaign violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI. The situation has no parallel with the only previous FBI director to be removed by a president: President Clinton’s firing of William Sessions, whose ethical misconduct was so extensive that it resulted in a six-month Justice Department investigation an a blistering 161-page report detailing his illicit activities, including flagrant misuse of public funds. Trump’s firing Comey at a time when Comey is investigating Russian intervention in the election on Trump’s behalf and the specific conduct of a number of people close to Trump undermines the credibility of his own presidency. And it deeply threatens the integrity of and public confidence in ongoing law enforcement and intelligence operations. [Continue reading…]