If you’ve turned on the news at all this week or even listened to the radio, you’ve probably heard that there’s some sort of uproar at the F.B.I. and it has to do with Trump (what doesn’t these days?). CNN seems to have 24-hour coverage on the developing story, but you really don’t need to watch all that to understand what happened and what it means. So let’s dive right in.
On May 9th, Donald Trump did what he does best and used those two little words that made him famous, “you’re fired.” The problem? The person he was firing was F.B.I. director James Comey. The only other president in history to fire the director of the F.B.I. was Bill Clinton when then-director William Sessions refused to step down amid ethical concerns.
So what was up with this Comey guy? Was he ethically ambiguous? Not that we know of. And he definitely did not deserve to go out the way he did. He learned of his firing on television while addressing a group of new F.B.I. recruits. Yeah, that’s right, Trump doesn’t need a TV show to fire people publicly.
Why did this happen?
So if Comey wasn’t unethical, what was he fired for? Good question. And there are two answers.
Answer #1: Trump’s official stance is that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. This is questionable because Trump benefited politically from that investigation and even praised Comey’s “guts” for pursuing the investigation during last year’s election. We also seem to recall a little refrain encouraged by Trump that went along the lines of “Lock her up.”
Answer #2: This firing has some pretty suspicious timing. It was only a few days before that Comey asked for more resources for pursuing his investigation into the Trump administration’s ties to Russia and their possible tampering with the 2016 election. This inquiry could be detrimental for Trump as well as several members of his administration. Hmmm, suspicious.
What does this mean?
Well, here’s the problem: the F.B.I. is supposed to operate independently from the influence of the White House. That’s why the president pretty much never fires the director. The Judicial branch of government (the F.B.I. here) is supposed to be a check on the Executive branch (the White House). The main reason for this being that someone needs to make sure the highest officials in the land are not above the laws of it.
Trump’s firing of Comey is cause for concern because if it was actually about the Russia investigation, that’s a direct violation of democratic values. If Trump ousted Comey to slow or inhibit the investigation because he is in some way guilty of colluding with Russia in the election, that’s an authoritarian move. We all know how much the Americans pride themselves on their democracy. That is not an okay way to run a democracy.
Should we be scared here? Maybe a little, but it looks like the Russia investigation is going to continue without Comey. The senate is pushing for an independent investigator and special prosecutor to continue their inquiry into Michael Flynn and associates who had financial ties to Russia. The acting director of the F.B.I., Andrew McCabe, has also said that the bureau will continue pursuing their investigation.
So yeah, there’s a lot going on. Trump has the authority to appoint the new F.B.I. director and it will likely be someone who is supportive of him when it should really be an independent thinker. In the meantime, at least other branches will be looking into the Russia ties, and maybe, just maybe everything will be okay.