President Trump Fires Comey, Now What?
May 11, 2017
Former FBI Director James Comey was fired Tuesday by a letter from President Donald Trump to Comey, stating he was “terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.”
This abrupt removal marked the third time President Trump fired a high-profile official during his first three-plus months in office, following the ousters of his national security adviser and acting attorney general.
The news broke shortly after delivery of the letter, when President Trump made a round of calls to congressional leaders, informing them of the termination.
In the letter, the President thanked Comey for informing him “on three separate occasions” that Trump was not under investigation. If true, such conversations would be counter to Justice Department protocols prohibiting discussions of current investigations with White House officials. If, however, the President’s account was false, Trump effectively tarnished Comey’s reputation as he pushed him out.
On Wednesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, and vice-chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, invited Comey to tell his side of the story on Tuesday in a closed-door interview. Comey is not expected to provide formal testimony, but the Senate Committee awaits the former FBI director’s and the White House’s response to the invitation, especially considering the president's own words may end up restricting his options, reports Reuters.
According to Savannah Law professor Andy Wright, a former associate counsel in the Obama White House, the Senate committee will want to know the basis of the president’s remarks that Comey assured him he was not under investigation in regards to the FBI’s Russia probe.
Thus, if Comey’s recollection does not match the President’s version, the former FBI director “is entitled to defend his conduct,” said Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel and attorney general for George W. Bush.
“If the conversations did not occur and I’m being fired and the letter firing me puts me in an additional bad light, I’d be pretty angry,” said Gonzales.
While Comey is not allowed to reveal classified information of investigative details as a private citizen, Wright said Comey’s conversations with President Trump are not shielded by attorney-client privilege because the President was not Comey’s client, and in his role as FBI Director, Comey is not acting as an attorney.
So what can Comey say?
"Right now he can come out ... to talk about his opinions, his politics," said Jeff Ringel, a retired FBI squad supervisor in New York. "There's no longer the requirement he has to forever hold those views to himself."
Because the Hatch Act restricts federal employees from expressing political beliefs, Comey is only now able to share his true opinions.
For instance, in a public hearing, Comey could testify under oath and state why he believes he was fired shortly after reportedly requesting more money from DOJ to grow the bureau's Russia inquiry.
"I think if I was him, I'd want to tell my story," said Myron Fuller, a former FBI supervisor who ran the Salt Lake City division. "And at least he would be able to give some idea of why he thinks he was fired, because the discussion is why was he fired now?"
However, the White House may attempt to exert executive privilege to prevent Comey from talking to the Senate committee.
While one component of executive privilege covers presidential communications, the privilege over such communications can be overcome by a compelling government interest in the disclosure.
According to Reuters, the precedent establishing the bounds of privilege for presidential communications came in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1974 decision in U.S. v. Nixon, in which the court ordered a Watergate-besieged Richard Nixon to turn over audiotapes and documents to special prosecutor Leon Jaworski.
Yet, because the President publicly disclosed these conversations with Comey in his letter, that could be considered a waiver of any presidential privilege protecting Trump's interactions with the former FBI director.
At this point, the Los Angeles Times states the “immediate priority is to safeguard the integrity of that investigation and its credibility in the eyes of the public and to preserve the evidence that has been amassed.”
A White House statement said the search for a new director would begin “immediately.” Comey did not find out about his dismissal until he saw it on TV while speaking to employees at an FBI office in Los Angeles.
Soon after, the memo sent to Trump from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein outlining his conclusion that Comey had not properly concluded the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices, was released.
Rosenstein closed the memo by stating: “As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions.” Sessions included a cover letter recommending Comey be dismissed.
In response to Comey’s termination, Republican Senators appear to have mixed feelings.
Tuesday night, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told a group of foreign diplomats that Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James B. Comey is bad for the country and will not be the end of the Trump-Russia affair.
“This scandal is going to go on. I’ve seen it before,” McCain told a meeting of the Munich Security Conference core group. “This is a centipede. I guarantee you there will be more shoes to drop, I can just guarantee it. There’s just too much information that we don’t have that will be coming out.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged it was “a difficult decision” to fire Comey, but said it would give the FBI an opportunity to regain trust. “Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation’s interests,” Graham said in a statement.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who opposed the creation of an independent commission to investigate Russia’s influence on the election in the past, said he could not “find an acceptable rational for the timing of Comey’s firing.”
I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 10, 2017
And as for comparisons to Watergate, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) simply said on Fox and Friends: “Suck it up and move on.”
By Brionne Griffin, FEDagent