Trump's decision to fire FBI director
In a stunning development late on Tuesday, United States President Donald Trump sacked James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, reportedly for of his poor handling of the Hillary Clinton emails controversy. Trump's opponents, however, believe that Comey was fired because he was also leading a serious investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.
Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, made up of members of the United States House of Representatives, Comey said on March 20, that the FBI was conducting a criminal investigation into "any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." At the hearing, Comey was not forthcoming about the details of the investigation, but as CNN reported, "the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign."
Although this isn't conclusive evidence, Trump's critics believe that the walls were indeed closing in on officials close to the US President and maybe the man himself. The cloud of Russian influence on the Trump administration has already resulted in the firing of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn for reportedly lying about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to US Vice President Mike Pence.
If the FBI investigation into the Russia connection had indeed covered concrete proof that the Trump campaign had coordinated with Moscow, it would end up as a kind of scandal that could render the US President vulnerable to impeachment. Comey also publically dismissed Trump's allegations that Barack Obama had ordered American spy agencies to wiretap Trump Tower during the election campaign. Critics have jumped on these two possible episodes as context to the Trump administration's decision to fire Comey.
The White House, however, has presented two other documents to justify Trump's actions—a letter from US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to his President and a three-page memorandum from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Sessions.
It is also imperative to note that Sessions had to recuse himself from investigating the Trump campaign's alleged connections with Moscow after failing to disclose his meetings with the Russian Ambassador. In other words, he had lied under oath during his confirmation hearings in the Senate.
While Sessions had no problem in recusing himself from the investigations, he clearly had no trouble helping Trump fire the FBI director. As the White House press statement clearly states: "President Trump acted on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions." Rosenstein's three-page memorandum to Sessions mainly highlights why Comey was fired. He had felt that the former FBI director handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State rather poorly.
One can make the argument for incompetence on Comey's part in handling such a sensitive investigation since he first declared the case to be closed last July before reopening it during election season, which many argue may have cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency. If Clinton had indeed won the election, there is little doubt that she would have also fired the FBI director. As Rosenstein argues, Comey's actions were "a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do." And for all intents and purposes, he may be right.
However, it's hard to countenance the Trump administration's reasons for firing Comey. It was the same Donald Trump, who seized upon Comey's decision to reopen the case and paint his opponent in the elections as a person who cannot be trusted to handle sensitive information. "It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had," Trump had said on October 31, 2016.
"Until the White House comes up with a less ludicrous rationalisation for its actions, we can only assume that Trump fired Comey because the Russia investigation is closing in on him and his associates, and he knew that he didn't have much sway over the F.B.I. director. That is the simplest theory that fits the facts," writes The New Yorker, a highly revered American magazine in a recent editorial. Many observers have compared Trump's actions to former US President Richard Nixon's decision in 1973 to sack the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.
For the uninitiated, it was the Watergate candal which eventually resulted in Nixon's ignominious impeachment. Sitting outside the United States, it is indeed fascinating to watch Americans raising issues about a President who they believed sought Russian help to come to power, considering the number of times Washington has derailed electoral processes all around the world and backed countless regime changes. What will be the fallout of Trump's latest decision? Only time will tell.
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