Trump said in his “you’re fired” letter that Comey had told him three times that he wasn’t under investigation in the Russiagate probe. He repeated that claim in today’s interview with NBC.
Nonsense, say Comey’s allies.
Those close to Mr. Comey said he was blindsided by his dismissal, which he saw on TV while at a law-enforcement event in Los Angeles. He was hurt that after years of service, he didn’t receive a courtesy call from the White House, a close associate said, and initially thought the television reports were part of an elaborate joke. The White House said it was following protocol in delivering the dismissal letter by hand to his Washington office.
Mr. Comey’s associates also denied the claim made by Mr. Trump, in his letter firing Mr. Comey, that the director told him on three occasions that he wasn’t under investigation. They said Mr. Comey never gave Mr. Trump any such guidance, which would violate longstanding policies on criminal investigations. “That is literally farcical,” said one associate.
Is there even a protocol at the FBI for how much you can tell the president about an open investigation focused on his own associates, when he’s a potential subject? The Bureau doesn’t comment publicly on investigations until they’re closed, which is why Comey felt free to opine about Emailgate last July but not Russiagate last fall. They do comment privately to the president about open investigations when they brief him, of course — but what about when his own campaign staffers are mixed up in it? I don’t know how Comey could assure Trump that he’s not a subject of a probe which hasn’t finished yet and which reportedly expanded lately. He could have told him that he’s wasn’t under investigation as of that date, but who knows where the probe will go as agents chase down leads?
Also, which ethical breach is worse — the director of the FBI assuring the president he’s not under investigation or the president asking the director of the FBI whether he’s under investigation? The DOJ’s supposed to be insulated from politics so that law enforcement doesn’t feel pressure to apply the laws in ways that favor the party in power. The president chatting up the director over dinner about whether he’s the subject of a counterespionage probe, especially when that director is in the middle of an endless political firestorm that threatens his job, feels like … pressure. Why Trump would admit to having asked Comey instead of saying that Comey volunteered the information, I can’t imagine.
Here’s Scarborough accusing Trump of “subverting the Constitution” (by firing a guy he had the power to fire?) and vowing that if the GOP doesn’t check him, they’ll be “swept aside in 2018.” Other establishmentarians agree. I … kind of doubt it. They might get swept aside — it’s been known to happen in midterms, particularly when you’re saddled with an unpopular health-care bill — but Trump’s voters seem immune to any accusations of malfeasance or incompetence against him. And Democrats seem to be uniformly against Trump already; by definition, the Comey matter can’t increase your outrage if it’s already dialed up to 10. (Dumber Democrats might actually like Trump more because of the firing.) You can easily make the case that Republicans breaking ranks to attack Trump over Comey will imperil the party more next year by dividing the base and demoralizing the righties who want to see some pushback against the left. The GOP will get no credit from voters for joining with Dems against Trump in defense of Comey. On the contrary, bipartisanship will be cited as proof that both sides now agree that the Republican president is rotten and needs to suffer a heavy blow in the midterms. His job approval will tank and his congressional allies will pay the price at the polls. If Scarborough wants GOPers to cross Trump on this, the argument should be that it’s the right thing to do, not that it’s a political winner. It isn’t.