Sacking FBI chief, a clear misfire

The decision to sack the FBI chief calls into question Trump’s use of presidential powers

President Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at a time when the agency is expanding a probe into the possible collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign team and Moscow could well be a turning point in a scandal that is engulfing his administration. No incumbent of the White House since Richard Nixon has fired a top law enforcement official probing the President or his close aides. Nixon’s decision to sack the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal backfired, unleashing a chain of events that led to his eventual resignation. The reason Mr. Trump has given for ousting Mr. Comey is hardly convincing. The administration accuses Mr. Comey of having been unfair to Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, in an investigation concerning her private email server while serving as Secretary of State, and of incompetence. To be sure, Mr. Comey’s handling of the Clinton case was very controversial and had triggered sharp criticism, especially from the Democrats. She said that Mr. Comey’s public statement just days before the November 2016 election that the FBI had reopened the probe into the server issue cost her many votes. The irony is that Mr. Trump had then appreciated Mr. Comey’s “guts”. So now when he cites Mr. Comey’s handling of the Clinton server probe as the reason to get rid of him, naturally it finds few takers.

On the other side, available facts suggest that the investigation into the Russia scandal was closing in on Mr. Trump’s associates and that the White House has had little control over Mr. Comey’s FBI. Earlier, Mr. Comey confirmed to Congress that the Bureau was conducting a “criminal investigation” into any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Mr. Trump has already lost Michael Flynn, his original pick for National Security Adviser, from the Cabinet. Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General, has recused himself from the Russia probe, given his past ties to Moscow. Other Trump associates, such as Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone, also face accusations in the scandal. Besides, as the American media reported, Mr. Comey had asked the Justice Department for more resources for the investigation. But what he got was a dismissal letter from the President. This reinforces the perception that Mr. Trump was wary of the investigation and that he fired Mr. Comey to stop, or at least disrupt, the process. He now has the opportunity to choose the next FBI chief, who will oversee the probe going forward. But the political storm his action has triggered in Washington and the growing calls for an independent investigation into the entire ‘Russia’ scandal suggest that Mr. Trump has overplayed his hand — both ethically and tactically. The Comey firing has, in fact, taken him closer to Russiagate, which he had tried so hard over the past three months to distance himself from.

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