The Trump administration has some good arguments for the decision to fire James Comey, and some good arguments to make that the probe into Russian interference won’t be impacted by it. This … is not one of them. White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway reprimanded CNN’s Chris Cuomo and the national media for questioning the timing of Comey’s exit, telling him that “it’s inappropriate” to question Trump’s decisions and timing thereof:
Conway: “You want to question the timing of when [Trump] fires, when he hires… He’ll do it when he wants to.” https://t.co/5SliOOTse8
— CNN (@CNN) May 10, 2017
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, said in a combative television interview Wednesday morning that it is “inappropriate” to question the timing of Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey.
“You want to question the timing of when he hires, when he fires,” she said on CNN. “It’s inappropriate. He’ll do it when he wants to.”
CNN anchor Chris Cuomo had pointed out that the sudden firing of Comey came as the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference with the 2016 U.S. presidential election is heating up. Comey was overseeing the inquiry, which includes connections between Trump campaign officials and associates and the Russians.
Er … wut? Whether or not Cuomo’s correct on his recitation of the problems with firing Comey — comme-ci, comme-ça on that point — the media certainly has every right to analyze presidential decisions, as does everyone else. That seems especially true when it comes to sudden reversals on personnel that come out of the blue and could have a major impact on an open investigation that could involve administration officials, but it’s “appropriate” at any time. If it’s “inappropriate” to question presidential decisions, then why was Conway on CNN’s New Day in the first place? To review Trump’s schedule for the day? Come on, man.
In fact, that’s a pretty good question anyway. After a few disastrous appearances on other networks, the White House corralled Conway for a while, and then seemed to limit her to friendly environments such as Fox & Friends. The White House has denied that it’s limited Conway, but after this exchange, they may want to reconsider her media assignments. Calling normal media coverage “inappropriate” tosses some unnecessary gasoline on an already raging media fire.
It’s true that Trump got elected in significant part over dissatisfaction with media bias targeting conservatives, but the point of that wasn’t that the media shouldn’t ask questions at all. It was that they should be just as tough on Democrats as Republicans. Team Trump won the brass ring, though, and they’d better get used to media scrutiny over policy and personnel decisions, which most of us would have described as status quo ante Barack Obama.
Don’t tell the White House, but Byron York also offers an inappropriate look into the timing of Comey’s ouster:
First, it took a long time to get an attorney general in office. Facing Democratic opposition, Jeff Sessions, one of the president’s first nominees, was not confirmed by the Senate until February 8. Then, it took a long time to get a deputy attorney general in place. Rod Rosenstein, the deputy — and the man who wrote the rationale for axing Comey — faced similar Democratic delays and was not sworn in until April 26.
Only after Rosenstein was in place did the Trump team move ahead. That was true not only for chain-of-command reasons but also — probably more importantly — because Rosenstein had the bipartisan street cred to be able to be the point man in firing Comey. Even though his confirmation was delayed, Rosenstein was eventually confirmed by the Senate by a 94 to 6 vote, meaning that the vast majority of Democratic senators voted for him along with all of the Republicans.
How important was the arrival of Rosenstein to the bid to fire Comey? This, from a source in a Senate office Wednesday morning: “Many who are suggesting that there’s something nefarious about the timing of the Comey firing are likely missing the fact that DAG Rosenstein was sworn in two weeks ago (April 26), and that the FBI Director reports to the DAG on the DOJ org chart. It seems completely normal that the DAG would review their top reports within the first couple weeks of starting.”
Discount the part about “completely normal” — firing the FBI director, who has a ten-year term and was conducting a high-profile investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that touches on the president, was not a routine act. The point is, it took the arrival of Rosenstein to do it.
If that’s the case, then why did Trump tell Maria Bartiromo on April 12th that he still had confidence in Comey? As York notes, it’s not a “ringing endorsement,” but it would tend to indicate that nothing Comey had done up to that point required a change in personnel. Had Rosenstein cited Comey’s testimony last week as the proximate cause, that would make sense. But instead, Rosenstein cited Comey’s actions in June and July of last year — and rightly so — as a reason to replace the FBI director with someone who respected the chain of command and Department of Justice protocols.
That makes Comey’s question about timing not just appropriate, but very pertinent. If the DoJ and Trump administration had a plan to dump Comey for months, why didn’t Trump nominate a replacement at the same time? Conway’s response of “how do you know we don’t” is as silly as calling the question inappropriate; if they had a nominee, why wouldn’t they announce it yesterday?
This White House had better get used to “inappropriate” questions. They’re raising a lot of those themselves.