Jonah Goldberg may have captured this weird moment in American politics best. In response to Donald Trump’s jibe at Democrats raging over the firing of James Comey, Goldberg tweeted, “If hypocrisy were helium, Washington would be in low earth orbit this morning.” And it’s not just the Democratic hypocrisy that Trump highlights here, either:
The Democrats have said some of the worst things about James Comey, including the fact that he should be fired, but now they play so sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2017
Ahem. Yes, there’s plenty of hypocrisy coming from Democrats hyperventilating over the firing of a man whose credibility they have spent most of the last year undermining. Hillary Clinton continues to claim that James Comey interfered in the election, an accusation that would make Comey’s continued tenure at the FBI completely untenable, if true. At least a few of the same Democrats who now see Comey’s firing as the latest Trumpian threat to democracy had earlier demanded his resignation or firing for the very same reason given by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: for usurping the Attorney General’s authority and releasing negative information from an investigation that had been concluded without a recommendation to prosecute.
On the other hand, though, there’s also no small amount of hypocrisy from Trump on this, too. He came into office praising Comey, and as late as last week was defending Comey from Hillary’s accusations, at least as a means to needle his former rival:
President Donald Trump took to Twitter late Tuesday to share his unconventional view that FBI Director James Comey was “the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton,” shortly after Clinton said during an interview that Comey may have cost her the presidency in last year’s bitter race.
“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!” Trump tweeted, claiming that the Democratic party has tried to justify its election loss by drawing attention to alleged ties between Trump’s associates and the Russian government.
Now, suddenly, it appears that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions agree with Hillary. More to the point, Trump could have fired Comey on these grounds on Day One of his presidency. Instead, the White House continued to offer support for Comey, explicit and implicit. Under normal circumstances, one could believe that Comey’s less-than-stellar testimony to Congress last week might have provided the straw that broke the camel’s back, but Rosenstein’s letter focuses almost entirely on what Comey did in July 2016.
The timing appears curious for another reason. Rosenstein took office thirteen days before sending this letter to Jeff Sessions, which seems rather soon to touch off a major political firestorm from the Deputy AG slot. It looks as though Rosenstein was brought in specifically to be the hatchet man on this firing, relieving Sessions from the responsibility after he pledged to recuse himself from all Russia-probe related decisions.
Still, as Fran Townsend pointed out on CBS’ This Morning earlier, Rosenstein has served two Democratic and two Republican presidents and started off in the Clinton administration, so he makes for an unlikely political fixer for either Sessions or Trump. Don’t forget that Comey was also under investigation by the DoJ’s Inspector General for the very reasons cited by Rosenstein in his letter. And Rosenstein has one other card in his favor — he’s absolutely correct in his reasoning:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 10, 2017
Finally, does this amount to obstruction of justice in the Russia probe? That seems pretty doubtful, as it will continue under whomever follows Comey into that slot. It will also take months to replace him, and in the meantime the probe will be run by acting Director Andrew McCabe — the same person whom Republicans complained had political connections to Hillary Clinton during the e-mail probe. This doesn’t look like anything connected to the Russia probes, but more like a long-planned firing executed with terrible timing.