I’m curious to see how Democrats react to this. As much as they hate Comey for his role in the campaign, they have the same dilemma here that the Senate has with Tillerson. Namely, the alternative might very well be worse. There’s at least a chance that Comey will demonstrate some independence from Trump, if only to try to rehab his new reputation on the left as a right-wing hack. There’s less of a chance that a handpicked Trump appointee to head the FBI will. If you’re Nancy Pelosi, do you really want to hear the words “FBI Director Corey Lewandowski”?
Which raises the question: Why doesn’t Trump want to handpick a new FBI director?
The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, told his top agents from around the country that he had been asked by President Trump to stay on the job running the federal government’s top law enforcement agency, according to people familiar with the matter…
Retaining Mr. Comey could also help calm the bureau’s work force, which has been rattled after a tumultuous few months in which the F.B.I. and the director himself were sharply criticized for moves that many felt influenced the outcome of the presidential election…
When Mr. Comey and the president-elect met in Trump Tower for the first time earlier this month for an intelligence briefing, Mr. Trump told the F.B.I. director that he hoped he would remain in his position, according to people briefed on the matter. And Mr. Trump’s aides have made it clear to Mr. Comey that the president does not plan to ask him to leave, these people said.
Unlike most federal employees, the director of the FBI serves for a fixed term (10 years, which began in Comey’s case in 2013) but the president can fire him if he likes. If Trump wants his own guy in there, the time to push Comey out is now. He has a solid argument for doing so: Given the amount of partisan rancor surrounding the FBI since the election, he could say, the country and the bureau need a fresh start. With Comey gone, Trump would not only be able to replace him with a true loyalist, he’d get some “good government” brownie points for having removed a divisive figure whose integrity is in question by half the electorate. It may be that Trump is calculating that Comey himself will become a loyalist now that he’s been rewarded with a public vote of confidence by the president at a difficult moment, with the DOJ’s inspector general investigating his and the FBI’s role in the campaign. That’s a gamble, though, and if Comey turns out to be more independent than Trump hoped, firing him later will be hard to spin as anything other than political. Imagine, for instance, that news breaks three months from now that the interagency task force being led by the FBI is advancing its investigation into contacts between Trump associates and Russia during the campaign. How does Trump fire him at that point without being accused of obstructing justice?
Could be that the White House is waiting to see the IG’s report before making a final decision. Right now they’re sticking by Comey to build goodwill with the FBI and to show that Trump respects the bureau’s independence. After all, reports are all over the media lately not just about the task force but the fact that the FBI looked into Mike Flynn’s phone calls with the Russian ambassador last month. (It was revealed just this morning, coincidentally, that they found no wrongdoing by Flynn.) Standing by Comey amid all of that makes Trump look good, letting the investigations play out instead of short-circuiting them for Nixonian political reasons, and also shows confidence that they won’t turn up anything incriminating. Having achieved all of that, if and when the IG report comes out and is critical of Comey, they could push him out at that point and put their own person in the role. “We gave Jim the benefit of the doubt,” the White House could say, “but in light of this report, it’s imperative to rebuild the bureau’s credibility with the public by naming a new director.” We’ll see.
If Trump does end up replacing Comey, though, and the left screams that he’s only doing it to insert his own loyalist into the role, remember this tidbit buried in the NYT story quoted above: “Republicans most likely would have attacked Mrs. Clinton if she had asked Mr. Comey to resign upon her election, but some people close to her have said that she was willing to endure whatever political cost was necessary in order to ensure Mr. Comey lost his job.”