In Politico, Cass Sunstein notes that there are two possible reasons Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. “The first is that in light of the multiple controversies that came to surround Comey, he was rightly fired.” The second is “that Trump does not want an independent FBI director”—that Comey was fired because Trump wanted to kill the investigation into his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia.
Trump’s Administration has staked its credibility on the first explanation. The DOJ came up with a relatively compelling letter explaining the decision on those lines after the White House reportedly asked it to find a justification for Comey’s ouster. But few impartial observers believe that it is an honest portrayal of the President’s reasoning.
The second explanation—or some version of it—seems to be becoming the consensus view among a growing bipartisan group. If true, this would amount to a serious indictment of the President’s judgment that demands a thorough accounting. What it does not amount to—at least not right now—is a smoking gun pointing to high-level malfeasance between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as many of the more adamant propagators of this theory are fervently insisting once again.
Many of us remember when, in 2003, Saddam Hussein kicked international inspectors out of Iraq—and, of course, turned out not to have weapons of mass destruction after all. It could be that Trump is simply contemptuous of the investigation into him, and in a fit of pique demanded the scalp of the man running it—even if he wasn’t in a panic about what the investigation would ultimately find.
Whatever the rationale, Trump’s decision is a deeply regrettable one if for no other reason that it looks set to kick off an even more intense round of introversion, infighting, and chaos in Washington. For example, take a look at self-satisfied smirks on the lips of both Sergey Lavrov and Vladimir Putin, as they field questions on the Comey affair. You can imagine that the moment is being similarly savored in Beijing and Pyongyang. All these leaders know the United States is about to stop being able to pay much attention to what’s going on beyond its borders. With the world in a particularly parlous state at this very moment, this was the last thing we needed.