Right Choice, Wrong Time
However unpredictable their source may have been, the events following the firing of former FBI Director James Comey have been exactly the opposite: exactly what everyone expected. Democrats condemned the firing, citing poor or suspect timing and voicing tacit concerns about the grand, treasonous conspiracy they know exists. Only cheating could have lead to a GOP election sweep, right? Republicans sidestepped, choosing instead to focus on the "hypocrisy" of top Democrats like Chuck Schumer who condemned the directors decision to publicly re-open the Clinton email investigation in October, publicly stating "I do not have confidence in [the director] and longer," only to denounce the firing earlier this week. And the White House lied, obfuscated, and changed its story about the firing multiple times. Anyone could have guessed that these would be the events following the firing if they had known about it in advance. But who is right? What, or who, is the real story here?
From any perspective, if everyone is honest, Comey's decision making over the last few months has been far from ideal. Multiple sources have confirmed the director's lust for the spotlight, manifest in his unorthodox decision making process: a dramatic press conference in July and a last minute bombshell in October put Comey's name on the front page of every major newspaper in the country at least 20 times over the last 6 months. Even the President has bitterly remarked "He's more famous than me." A professional, patriotic FBI director should be no more famous than the Secretary of Agriculture or HHS, and Comey's seemingly deliberate attempts to make news indicate a worrying degree of unprofessionalism. One must also consider the effect of his decisions on the election. What drove his decision to defy department policy and and release extensive, undeniably influential information on the Clinton email investigation, while refusing to make public the existence of a Trump-Russia investigation as well? Should an appointed bureaucrat wield the power to possibly decide the outcome of an election? Most Americans would likely say no. Reports of the past week have done nothing to enhance the director's image, either. If Trump really asked Comey for loyalty at a private dinner, as the New York Times reported, a resignation would, perhaps, be the most responsible thing. But maybe he wanted to stay on because the spotlight, and the chance to fulfill his self image of unshakable integrity was just too tempting. In any case, I would support the decision to fire Comey in a vacuum, or perhaps simply appoint a new FBI director at the start of the term on account of his record in recent months. But that is not what happened.
The reality of the situation is that Trump's decision was not made in a vacuum. Administration officials can deny a connection to the Russia investigation all they want, but the suspect timing of the firing have severely handicapped the legitimacy of their denials. To make matters worse, on Thursday the President cited "this Russia thing" as one of the reasons for the Director's sudden dismissal, undercutting his staff and communications team. Was the the President so out of touch that he did not anticipate any backlash? Doubtful. Is it appropriate to fire the head of the FBI while he leads an investigation into the activities of your campaign in relation to a foreign government? Absolutely not. The timing of the dismissal was abysmal, and entirely unacceptable. Context means a lot.
Is there a massive Trump-Russia conspiracy that we don't know about? Possibly. Is the Trump White House so incompetent that it fails to understand the basic optics of its decision making? Likely. Maybe there really is something behind this Russia story, but maybe there is not. What we know for sure is that things look a lot worse for the Trump White House than they did last week. Maybe Comey's job performance was dissatisfactory, maybe it wasn't. Frankly it doesn't matter. The firing of the FBI director while he leads an investigation which could endanger the Trump presidency is scandalous at best, and will only further damage the integrity and security of our democratic process. The Trump administration is running out of time to right the ship, and the Captain certainly is not helping.