A Quick Guide to the Political Firestorm over Comey’s Firing. What matters and why. What Democrats and Republicans will argue

Donald Trump’s decision to fire James Comey has set off a firestorm, mostly along party lines, but not entirely. Some Republicans have expressed concern, too, and more will wring their hands in the next few days if the Democrats’ narrative takes hold.

How long the fire lasts and how much it consumes depends, crucially, on information that will emerge out over the coming days, as media organizations pump their sources and Comey defends himself.

Here are the basic messages you will hear from Democrats and Republicans, starting immediately.

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The Democrats’ message is remarkably disciplined. They are speaking with one voice, Chuck Schumer’s.

They will repeat two key words: Nixon and Watergate.

Their meaning is clear: Comey was fired to cover up Trump’s crimes.

Here is their message:

  • Trump, not some underlying, is the person who fired Comey.
  • Trump fired Comey because the FBI was getting to close to uncovering malfeasance by the Trump campaign and transition.
    • This is focused on Russian collaboration with Trump and usually implied rather than asserted directly. Why?
      • First, the intelligence agencies agree that Russia actively meddled in the US campaign, sought to harm Hillary Clinton, and favored Trump.
      • We know that some Trump advisers had connections of various sorts to Russian entities. The most important is Michael Flynn, who was briefly the National Security Adviser. There are reports that he and his associates are now under investigation by a grand jury. Some questions have also swirled around Paul Manafort, head of Trump’s campaign in the summer, and Carter Page, a lower-level figure.
    • Key question: Do the connections between the Trump team and Russia rise to the level of collaboration? If so, that would be a huge scandal and lead to calls for impeachment. If such evidence were found and were convincing, many would consider it a “high crime and misdemeanor.”
      • So far, no evidence of such collaboration has been found. Senior figures of the intelligence community, associated with the Obama Administration, have specifically said that they have looked and that there is no such evidence.
  • Because Trump “interfered” with the FBI, which was investigating the Russia issue, we cannot leave this investigation to the Congress or Department of Justice.
    • Key claim: We are now seeing a Watergate-style coverup by the Trump Administration since they cannot fairly investigate themselves and we cannot count on the FBI, the DOJ, etc.
    • Key demand: We must have an independent special counsel to investigate
    • This demand will receive unanimous backing from Democrats, I expect, and has already received a lot of vocal support from them.
    • The demand will succeed politically if the public thinks there is a coverup and enough Republicans agree that an independent counsel is needed.
  • What’s missing from the Democrats’ argument?
    • None of them actually defend Comey or say he should have been kept in the job. They can hardly make the affirmative case since they have repeatedly called for him to be fired.
    • They simply say “the timing is bad” or “looks suspicious.” But they would have said that if Trump had fired Comey on Day 1. They would have said Trump is trying to stop an on-going investigation.
    • They have not produced any evidence that the firing was actually related to the coverup of a crime, which was the essence of the Watergate firing of Archie Cox and his associates.
    • They have not explained why the firing of Comey impedes the Senate investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
  • What to expect?
    • Democrats will keep pushing hard to get an independent counsel and, if possible, stop Trump’s policy agenda by tying up the Congress and undercutting public support for him.
    • Hearings, of course. Lights, camera, preening. The goal of public hearings is to push agendas, not discover information. And the Democrats have a perfect opportunity here.
    • huge fight over whoever Trump picks as the new FBI director. The fight will be less intense if the nominee is a highly-regarded, career professional, but the Democrats will still use the selection and confirmation hearings to slash and burn the Trump administration.

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What are Republicans saying?

They have said, or will say,

  • Comey deserved to be fired for cause, totally unrelated to any Russian investigation.
  • Rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey, making it impossible for him to lead the agency.
  • Senators from both parties had already expressed their lack of confidence in Comey.
  • There is zero evidence, so far, of collusion between Trump and the Russians, much less that Trump was trying to stop any investigation (the obstruction of justice charge against Nixon).
  • If you D’s think Comey is so great, why did you call repeatedly for him to be fired? That is, R’s will try to get D’s to defend Comey, an untenable position, and move them away from simply attacking Trump and the Republicans.
  • The acting director at the FBI is a dreadful candidate to lead the agency, even in the interim. Why? Because his wife, an unsuccessful candidate for local office in Virginia, was handsomely funded by Clinton confidante, Terry McAuliffe. At the very least, that was a horrible judgment, given the FBI’s interest in the Clinton machine.

Significantly, I expect Republican activists to demand a fresh start to several failed investigations Comey led.

They think Comey botched them and that the DOJ blocked them under Lynch and Holder. Besides thinking that’s true–and wanting to get evidence that it is–they would be happy to distract attention from incoming fire.

  • Why, they ask, were all Hillary’s aides given immunity without an indictment in prospect for the bigger fish, the one with the private, unsecured server? Why was no Grand Jury empanelled? Why didn’t the FBI interview Hillary under oath? Why wasn’t the Clinton Foundation seriously investigated?
  • They will want a major investigation of the Obama Administration’s alleged spying on Americans, including members of Congress, the Trump team, and so on. If such spying really did take place, and if it was directed against political opponents, that is a scandal as big as anything since Watergate.
  • They want to know exactly who ordered all the unmasking of names, which should be readily available, and they will want to know the purported national security purposes for the large number of such requests from the White House. They will note that Obama’s National Security Adviser, Susan Rice, has already refused to testify voluntarily on that issue.
  • They know the leaking of Flynn’s name was a felony, and they want to see an indictment in that case.

My guess: if the Democrats look like they might get a special prosecutor for the Russia issue, the Republicans will want one for the Obama spying.

The Republicans in Congress know–or ought to know–that if Trump’s firing of Comey takes firm root as a major scandal, an attempted coverup by the White House, then the GOP’s grip on power will slip away.

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6 Comments
  • Ed Vidal
    May 10, 2017

    Democrats lost a winnable election, and afterwards (not until then) claimed that Russia had interfered as the main excuse for their loss. There still is no evidence for this accusation, but when Democrats have to render accounts to their donors and their base, they cannot admit what happened.

    What happened is that they had a lazy and crooked candidate, who felt that she was owed the job, and who peddled her predecessor’s failed policies of economic stagnation, Muslim appeasement and ethnic agitation.

    Democrats do.not like ordinary Americans and call them irredeemable and deplorable, clinging to their guns and Bibles. As a result Democrats have lost around 1,000 public offices nationwide since Obama’s election in 2008. This is not the Emerging Democrat Majority they expected.

  • Cheryl Brownstein
    May 10, 2017

    Nice analysis. You must have been up quite late. In the South, we have a saying about walking, quacking and looking like a duck. The administration in power appears to have something to hide. That statement does not say the previous administration does not. However the key word is PREVIOUS, they are NOT in power.
    The one IN POWER who can DO THE MOST DAMAGE, started with refusing to release information that would allow citizens to determine if there were any ties to foreign governments or their lackeys that would conflict with the best interest and safety of the United States. The scariest part is the party that has controlled the Congress for the years is willing to go along with him. That is a key difference from Nixon. AND, should be the most frightening for loyal Americans everywhere.

    • Ed Vidal
      May 13, 2017

      I do not stay up late anymore, except to go to the gun range for nighttime drills.

  • Dan Miller
    May 10, 2017

    If Trump wanted to deep-six an FBI investigation into his collusion with the Russians, he picked a peculiar way to do it: fire the head of the FBI.

  • Herb Caplan
    May 10, 2017

    Democrats are professional political hypocrites, and Comey suffers from a desire to be a hero – in his own mind, – with self-imposed checks and balances.
    It was said of J.Edgar Hoover that he could not be removed from office because he had scandalous or incriminating files on everyone in government. Comey’s actions over how to deal with the potential consequences of his unprecedented Hillary investigation are strangely reminiscent, if not of Hoover, of Secretary of State Alexander Haig, after the shooting of President Reagan, thinking that he was now ‘effectively” in charge of the federal government.

    Any Comey remorse taking place now? How does anything dark horse candidate Trump or his people may have said to any Russian in wiretapped phone calls compare in significance with President Obama In 2012 being overheard over a hot microphone telling President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia to tell Putin that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate after the election? Obama got elected and then on his own independently made his disastrous deals with Iran and Cuba and Russia. Did Comey or the CIA ever see fit to investigate Valerie Jarrett and her Iranian connection, or Obama’s close friendships with Pastor Wright and the Weathermen William Ayres and Bernadine Dohrn etc ?

    At the end of the Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, and John Huston film Chinatown, the private investigator character Jake Gittes is told, ‘Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown’.

    Change the name to Washington and I think you’ve got it !

  • Christina H
    May 10, 2017

    The President (and many republicans) seem to be under the impression that they can deflect every criticism that they suffer for the rest of their political lives by pointing to some alleged misdeed by Hillary Clinton.

    At what point does that stop being politically effective? She lost the election, holds no office, and has absolutely nothing to do with the administration’s latest blunders. It’s unbelievable to me that voters are going to continue to turn their heads every time a Republican says “look! E-mails!” Will Trump’s response, in late 2019, to the fallout (political and otherwise) from his accidental nuking of Seoul be to say that Benghazi was “so much worse?”

    The Susan Rice angle is slightly better; there, the Democrats actually need the allegations to be untrue.

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