President Trump’s bizarrely explained, suspiciously timed decision to terminate the man responsible for leading the probe into his campaign and transition’s possible collusion with Russia stinks to high heaven.
Unless Trump comes forward with a credible explanation — in his own words, not those of an underling — the nation will credibly conclude that his firing of James Comey as FBI director is motivated not by good judgment but by self-preservation, fear or spite. Or perhaps all three.
FBI directors typically serve 10-year terms specifically to be insulated from stiff political winds. The sudden opening of the job at an exceedingly delicate moment gives a President with interest in the outcome of a criminal investigation the ability to put his thumb on the scales.
The timing here makes no sense. While Comey did make a number of difficult-to-defend moves months ago — decisions that the memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein justifying the firing ably dissects, with quotes from former attorneys general of both parties — all the director’s mistakes cited were well understood long before Trump began staffing up his administration.
Eyes wide open, Trump made a choice to keep Comey — only to reverse himself now, as questions about Russia swirl, on the basis of actions the FBI’s director took last year.
Indeed, some of the incidents Trump now accepts as cause for Comey’s termination were ones he looked upon kindly as a candidate.
The Rosenstein memo flays Comey for undermining then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch in the closing days of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation. But Trump himself believed Lynch’s independence to be fatally tainted, and said so.
The Rosenstein memo criticized Comey’s Oct. 28 letter seeming to reopen the Clinton investigation upon discovery of new emails. At the time, Trump heaped praise on the director for that decision, saying, “It took guts.”
Now, on the basis of a memo dated the very same day the President made the call to terminate, Trump for some reason decided to show Comey the door.
Indeed, according to stunning reports that cry out for deeper investigation, Trump reverse-engineered the firing — choosing to remove Comey at least a week ago, then tasking his attorney general with delivering a rationale.
The next FBI director must be of unimpeachable integrity. Only a truly independent criminal-justice heavyweight can run the nation’s top law enforcement agency in the age of Donald Trump.