Analysis: Firing of FBI chief Comey casts Trump-Russia investigations adrift
The shock firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday now casts a shadow over the future of congressional investigations into Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of President Donald Trump.
Comey, who has testified before the Senate and House intelligence committees on several occasions as well as before other committees on the topic, had emerged in recent months clearly as the point person in the investigation. Senators and representatives were not shy about the fact that congressional investigations leaned heavily on him.
His firing was described as “Nixonian” by Democrat Senator Bob Casey.
Even longtime Trump supporter Republican Senator Richard Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee and is leading that panel’s investigation of Russian meddling, said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination.”
Comey’s firing occurred as federal investigators closed in on several former Trump campaign aides who had contacts with Russia at a time when US intelligence agencies have concluded the Kremlin had launched a cyber offensive aimed at helping Trump win the White House.
Retired Army General Michael Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser in February, publicly sought immunity for testimony to congressional intelligence committees about the matter.
But Flynn also was acknowledged as central to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump, his associates and Russia.
When asked recently about possible criminal charges that might come from the investigation, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff , said, “That’s not our part of this. That’s up to the FBI and Department of Justice.”
Schiff said that he had his issues with Comey in the past, but that the firing raised doubts about Trump’s decision-making process.
“The decision by a president whose campaign associates are under investigation by the FBI for collusion with Russia to fire the man overseeing that investigation, upon the recommendation of an attorney general who has recused himself from that investigation, raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” he said.
He also noted that the move reminded him of actions by President Richard Nixon as the Watergate scandal unfolded. “The same president who has called the investigation into the Russian hacking of our democracy and the potential complicity of his campaign a ‘fake,’ cannot pretend to have made such a decision uninfluenced by his concerns over Comey’s continued involvement in the investigation.”
Democrat Representative Eric Swalwell, said the firing “should send a chill down the spine of every American, no matter who they voted for. This is not what an innocent person would do; this is an abuse of power, and shows a consciousness of guilt.”
Swalwell, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump’s move screams political interference, dubbing it the “Tuesday Afternoon Massacre.”
“The administration of justice must remain free of political influence, and President Trump has just leaped over that line,” he said. “If he thinks this will halt or even slow investigations into his and his associates’ conduct, he is sadly mistaken.”
Over the past several weeks, Trump had seemed to be in the market for a reason to get rid of Comey, an Obama appointee whom Trump derided during the 2016 campaign for not recommending charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server.
Then, in March, Comey announced that the FBI was investigating alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. He also cast doubt on Trump’s claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him during the campaign.
A couple of weeks after Comey made those announcements, Trump talked about his job security at length in a conspicuous way, relitigating the FBI chief’s handling of the Clinton investigation.
“Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton,” Trump told Fox Business in an interview airing April 12. “People don’t realise that. He saved her life.”
Trump has a tendency to signal publicly to people when they are on thin ice. And in retrospect, that appears to have been what was happening with Comey.
Additional reporting by The Washington Post