We have now passed the 100 day mark in Donald Trump’s presidency. If there has been one outstanding feature of this period, it has been the inconsistencies of the 45th United States president. One day Taiwan is important, soon after he announces no change in the United States’ One China Policy. For a while, Russian President Putin was a potential ally; soon after President Trump appointed advisors who are strongly anti-Russian. Trump has also retreated from his position on NATO. In January he said that NATO was “obsolete.” A couple of weeks later, the White House confirmed that Trump will attend a NATO summit in May. Campaign Trump threatened import duties on China and on Mexico. He said that on his first day in office, he would designate China as a currency manipulator. These things didn’t happen.
The firing of James Comey is another example of President Trump’s inconsistencies that have baffled and worried the international community.
Citizen Donald Trump created a public persona firing people as a hard-nosed businessman in the reality television show “The Apprentice.” Each firing was the highlight of the show. President Trump’s surprise dismissal of the chief of the F.B.I., James Comey, in the midst of an investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian authorities during the presidential campaign has stunned Washington. It has raised numerous questions about objectivity in the ongoing investigations as well as the president’s innocence. The removal of Comey will only add to the growing unease about the President’s impulsive actions, ethical conduct and respect for institutions.
James Comey has been a controversial figure since he investigated breaches of secrecy in then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. His disclosure that the investigation was re-opened just before the November 8 election has been seen as influencing the final vote. At the time, just eight days before the election, he was praised by candidate Trump: "It took guts for director Comey to make the move that he made. It took a lot of guts," he said.
Now, seven months later, President Trump has changed his mind about Comey, as he has done on many issues. He wrote to Mr. Comey on Tuesday May 9; “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote in another letter that was released by the White House; “I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails, and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
President Trump and the Deputy Attorney General justified the dismissal by Comey’s handling of the Clinton e-mails. But that investigation is over. The obvious question, therefore, is: Why was Comey fired now? The timing of the dismissal is especially pertinent considering that the F.B.I. is in the midst of an investigation of candidate Trump and his associates’ relationships with Russian officials during the campaign.
The Director of the F.B.I. is supposed to be above politics. In the third year of a ten-year term, Comey was well respected within the Bureau. While both the Senate and House of Representatives have committees looking at possible Russian involvement in the election, the F.B.I. is considered the most non-political of the investigating institutions.
All of this calls into question the reasons behind the firing. During the campaign, Comey was heavily criticized by Democrats for his unprecedented revelation of reopening the Clinton investigation. Democrats are now defending Comey, afraid that the Republican dominated Senate and House of Representatives will not carry out neutral investigations.
Are there any precedents for this firing? Mr. Comey is only the second director to be fired in Bureau history. President Bill Clinton fired William S. Sessions in 1993. Mr. Trump had already fired his acting attorney general and his national security advisor. But firing Mr. Comey while associates of the president are under investigation is most unusual.
There is some precedent. In 1973, in what has been called the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Richard Nixon dismissed special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate scandal. The order led to the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus While President Nixon dismissed the Watergate break in as a “third rate burglary,” history tells us how that investigation concluded. For the moment, President Trump has dismissed the investigation of possible Russian involvement. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.
No special prosecutor has yet been named. With the firing of Comey, serious questions are being raised about the possibilities of even having a special prosecutor as well as the possibility of having an apolitical inquiry. There will be a fight just to name a successor to Comey.
As he has done on numerous occasions, President Trump continues to startle, challenge traditions and undermine the rule of law. The firing of Comey is not part of a reality show. The consequences will effect the entire U.S. government and further diminish the country’s image around the world. After all, television ratings are not the same as presidential politics. Reality television stars cannot pretend to be president.