The firing of James Comey as FBI director is a profoundly dangerous thing—a move that puts the Trump-Russia investigation in immediate jeopardy and removes from the investigative hierarchy the one senior official whom President Trump did not appoint and one who is known to stand up to power, Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey write in Lawfare. One of the biggest dangers of Comey’s firing is that Trump might actually get away with it, ironically, the authors say, because of Comey’s unpopularity among Democrats and on the political left. Wittes and Hennessey warned immediately after the election that any Trump firing of Comey would be a “a clear bellwether to both the national security and civil libertarian communities that things are going terribly wrong.”
Whatever the merit of Comey’s actions during the campaign, the fact that he managed to anger both sides demonstrated his storied political independence, argue Wittes and Hennessey. That political independence would serve as a critical check against any efforts on the part of President Trump to trample the rule of law. The FBI Director serves a ten-year term to insulate against the whims of a president who does not like what—or whom—the FBI is investigating. The fact that Trump fired Comey during an FBI investigation of the president’s own campaign violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI, say the authors. The situation has no parallel with the only previous FBI director to be removed by a president: President Clinton’s firing of William Sessions, whose ethical misconduct was so extensive that it resulted in a six-month Justice Department investigation and a blistering report detailing his illicit activities, including flagrant misuse of public funds. Trump’s firing Comey at a time when Comey is investigating Russian intervention in the election on Trump’s behalf and the specific conduct of a number of people close to Trump undermines the credibility of his own presidency, maintain Wittes and Hennessey.