Andy McCarthy asks why President Trump fired James Comey. He concludes that Trump did so because he believed Comey intentionally misled the public into thinking Trump was under investigation by the FBI.
I think that’s probably the reason. As I have said, it seems clear that, at a minimum, Comey’s refusal publicly to say that Trump is not under investigation played a major role in the discharge decision.
It’s easy to understand why Trump would want the public to know that he isn’t under investigation. Why should a president, whose job surely is difficult enough, labor under the perception of a “cloud” that’s based on a false perception?
Only a hyperpartisan Democrat would think that the president should be burdened in this way. Thus, it was natural for Trump to conclude that Comey, in refusing to say publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation, was intentionally misleading the public for a bad purpose.
Was Trump right about this? To answer the question, we must begin with Comey’s explanation for not publicly stating that Trump wasn’t being investigated.
Comey testified that he didn’t want to make the statement because doing so would place him under an obligation to correct (or update) the record if, later on, Trump was investigated. But what’s wrong with that?
It would be bad for Trump if such an update occurred. However, it should have been Trump’s call whether to assume the risk of an update. If Trump believed, notwithstanding that risk, he could serve more effectively if Comey told the public the truth — that he isn’t under investigation — Comey should have deferred to the president.
But Comey had a reason of his own not to. As he testified, he had a bad experience with providing updates of the status of a high profile investigation. I’m referring, of course, to the Hillary Clinton investigation. Comey created quite a storm when he told the Senate that the Clinton investigation had been reopened. He still bears the scars, as he made clear during his testimony.
It’s understandable that Comey didn’t want to go through the “updating” experience again, or even create the possibility of going through it. But Comey’s personal desire shouldn’t have caused him to reject a reasonable request by the U.S. president for a simple statement to the public that would make it easier for the president to perform his job.
What’s more important, the president’s ability to function free from false suspicion or the desire of the FBI director to avoid a potential firestorm? The question answers itself. If Comey’s fear of another firestorm was behind his unwillingness to tell the public that Trump wasn’t being investigated, he should have resigned.
I think, though, that something else — another personal interest — was also at play. Imagine the outcry from Democrats and the mainstream media if Comey had declared publicly that Trump wasn’t under investigation.
Comey had already made two public declarations adverse to Democrats — his press conference laying out the evidence regarding Clinton’s emails and his “update” informing the Senate that the investigation had been reopened. A third such declaration — that Trump isn’t being investigated — would have been seen as final proof that this once praised figure was a tool of the Republicans.
Any chance of restoring his status as “fiercely independent” and willing to stand up to Republican presidents would be gone. Comey would have been viewed as bowing to Trump’s will. And, of course, the fact that Trump had leaned on him would make Comey feel there was truth to this. His self-image would also take a hit.
Again, we must ask: What’s more important, the president’s ability to function free from false suspicion or the desire of the FBI director to restore his public image and retain his self-image? Again, the question answers itself.
I can’t prove that Comey refused Trump’s reasonable request for either of the self-serving reasons described above. But doesn’t it almost have to be true that he did so either for one or both of these reasons or for the reason that McCarthy says Trump believed was at play — an affirmative desire to have the public believe that Trump is under investigation. In other words, Comey almost certainty acted out of self-interest or malice.
Either way, he deserved to be fired. But that’s a separate question from whether firing him has turned out to be a good idea from Trump’s perspective.