Why No One Believes Trump’s Rationale For Firing Comey

Several sources are reporting that Trump started talking about wanting to fire James Comey about a week ago and asked AG Sessions to provide him with a reason. That includes Mark Schmidt of the New York Times, Jeff Zeleny on CNN and Josh Dawsey at Politico. If that is true, it is helpful to look at a timeline of the events that led up to yesterday’s announcement.

The letter Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote that became the reason for Comey being fired focuses almost exclusively on his announcement July 5, 2016 that Hillary Clinton would not be prosecuted for the email scandal and went on to provide a blistering critique of her actions. It is important to note that the case Rosenstein makes is that this decision was not Comey’s to make and that his announcement broke Justice Department protocols. That is in keeping with one of the critiques many Democrats made against Comey. Rosenstein also mentioned Comey’s letter on October 28th announcing that additional emails had been found on Anthony Weiner’s computer, which were being investigated. Specifically, Rosenstein critiques Comey’s testimony last week in which he suggested that his only two options in October were to “speak” or “conceal.” Again, that is a concern that is shared by many Democrats.

The July incident happened just as the 2016 election was getting underway and, as we all know, the October announcement had a major impact on the election. But as Matt Shuham documents, Donald Trump was pretty pleased with Comey at the time.

President Donald Trump at times praised Comey’s work on the investigation.

Trump’s praise was especially pronounced after Comey’s Oct. 28 announcement that he was re-opening the investigation, just 11 days before Election Day.

I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did,” Trump said the day after the now-ousted FBI director’s announcement.

It took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution,” he said on Oct. 31. “You know that. It took a lot of guts.”

“I was not his fan,” he added, “but I’ll tell you what: What he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back.”

If, as Rosenstein’s letter suggests, Comey’s firing was about what he did on July 5th and October 28th, it is impossible to reconcile that with the praise the president has expressed for those actions over the last several months.

The second piece of timing to notice is that the letters/memos from Rosenstein, Sessions and Trump are all dated yesterday (May 9, 2017), the same day Comey was fired. That indicates that Rosenstein’s letter didn’t go through any kind of process for consideration and lends credence to the idea that Trump decided to do this a week ago and merely asked Sessions to come up with a rationale.

All of that raises the question of what happened a week ago that the president reacted to by deciding that he wanted to fire James Comey. There are a couple of potential reasons that we know about and the possibility of numerous ones that we don’t.

Exactly a week ago today Comey testified at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. While it is difficult to pinpoint anything he said that day that might have enraged Trump, it has always been a challenge for reasonable people to get inside this president’s head. Might it be because Comey alluded to the fact that he may have influenced the outcome of the election when he talked about feeling “nauseous” at the prospect of having done so?  We all know that Trump is obsessed with winning the election and has been willing to go to great lengths to tell lies about things like massive voter fraud in order to lay claim to a sense of legitimacy. Firing an FBI Director over a slight challenge to that is not completely outside the realm of possibility for this president.

With respect to the Russia/Trump probe, we also know what CNN reported last night.

Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.

The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.

As the article points out, these subpoenas have been issued in “recent weeks” and it is very likely that the president became aware of this “sign of a significant escalation of activity.”

There might be other things that are unfolding in the Trump/Russia probe that haven’t come to light yet, but Trump has heard about.

The one thing that seems to be clear is that, as even Charles Krauthammer admits, the stated reasons don’t make sense, leading many to dark and perilous conclusions. This is one of those moments when Trump’s obsession with lying to protect himself becomes foundational in how we react to his words and deeds. We have no basis on which to believe him and every reason to be suspicious.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.