By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
President Donald Trump is taking his former reality show’s tagline “you’re fired” and applying it to his governing. Trump fired embattled FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday evening, May 9, 2017. Trump quickly created a firestorm in Washington over his abrupt firing of Comey. Comey just testified that the FBI was ramping up their investigation in Russian interference in the presidential election and Trump’s campaign aides. Democrats long criticized his handling of Democratic Nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email server investigation. Still, Democrats were quick to attack the president for his decision to fire the FBI director.
The firing sent shock waves through Washington and the news media. In the statement, the White House released, they announced, “Today, President Donald J. Trump informed FBI Director James Comey that he has been terminated and removed from office.” The White House put the blame on the Department of Justice, saying, “President Trump acted based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
The president also sent a personal letter to Comey dismissing him as FBI director telling his he was being released from his position “effective immediately.” President Trump wrote, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Concluding the president said, “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recommendation to the president “concluded that a fresh start is needed at the leadership of the FBI.” Sessions told Trump, “It is essential that this Department of Justice clearly reaffirm its commitment to longstanding principles that ensure the integrity and fairness of federal investigations and prosecutions. The Director of the FBI must be someone who follows faithfully the rules and principles of the Department of Justice and who sets the right example for our law enforcement officials and others in the Department.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also wrote in his letter to the president that he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.” Rothenstein concluded, “Almost everyone agrees that the Director made serious mistakes; it is one the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”
Although the White House originally claimed, the Department of Justice wanted Comey to go, President Trump admitted the buck stopped with him. The next day, on Thursday, May 11, Trump gave an interview to NBC News’ Lester Holt admitting it was ultimately his decision to fire Comey. Trump explained, “Look, he’s a showboat. He’s a grandstander,” The president pointed out, “The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that. I know that. Everybody knows that. You take a look at the FBI a year ago — it was in virtual turmoil. Less than a year ago. It hasn’t recovered from that.”
Trump portrayed the decision as his alone, despite the initial administration depiction of the dismissal as one that came based on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump told Holt, “I was going to fire Comey. My decision.” The president said he was planning to fire Comey even before the memorandums from Sessions and Rothenstein reached his desk. President Trump revealed, “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” Trump also revealed that Comey told him three times recently that he was not the focus of the investigation. President Trump recounted, “I said, ‘If it’s possible would you let me know, am I under investigation?’ He said, ‘You are not under investigation.'”
Despite the backlash, on Thursday, Comey released a statement on his dismissal, claiming the president has the right to fire him should he deem fit. The former director wrote, “I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI Director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either. It is done, and I will be fine, although I will miss you and the mission deeply.”
The president has been angry at Comey since he appeared on March 20, 2017, in front of the House Committee on Intelligence and testifying the FBI is investigating “Russian interference” in the presidential election and “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” Comey’s firing conveniently came only days after the FBI Director asked for more resources for the Russia investigation.
Trump has long criticized the FBI director for not recommending charges for Clinton’s use of a private email server to send classified information while Secretary of State. On May 2, Trump tweeted about the investigation, writing in two posts, “FBI Director Comey was the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds! The phony Trump/Russia story was an excuse used by the Democrats as justification for losing the election. Perhaps Trump just ran a great campaign?”