First: The position of FBI director has — since 1976, and following J. Edgar Hoover’s umbral half century tenure — been set for 10 years, in substantial part to keep it both symbolically and practically removed from the vicissitudes of electoral cycles. Formally, any president can, of course remove a director short of that term, but it’s happened exactly once, 24 years ago, when Bill Clinton sacked early‐90s arcade screen mainstay William S. Sessions, for ethics violations. It is not, traditionally, one of those posts that just routinely swaps occupants when a new administration pitches its tent: Firing a director is an extraordinary event, for which one expects strong, clear reasons.
Second: The stated reasons for Comey’s dismissal are pretextual. They are so transparently, ludicrously pretextual that we should all feel at least a little bit insulted. The putative basis for Comey’s firing is a three page memo, dated May 9, faulting his public handling of the Hillary Clinton e‐mail server investigation, and a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, also dated May 9, that Comey be dismissed on that basis. That memo levels a number of fundamentally valid criticisms. It is also, as perhaps three page memos must necessarily be, pretty conclusory: It renders a verdict without much more than a gesture in the direction of an argument, and preempts a pending Inspector General investigation that would have produced a lengthy and serious account and analysis of Comey’s actions. While I’m inclined to agree with the memo’s critiques, underdeveloped as they are, they would be an extraordinarily thin basis on which to remove an FBI director, even if you thought they were the real basis. And they’re clearly not the real basis.
We are asked to believe that the decision to fire the FBI director — so abruptly he learned about it from a cable news chyron while out of D.C. — was based on a dashed off memo, and a response from the Attorney General, both issued the same day. We are asked to believe that it was motivated by Comey’s breaches of FBI protocol: First, in publicly criticizing Hillary Clinton, rather than letting Attorney General Loretta Lynch announce the decision that the former Secretary would not be indicted, and then in informing Congress that he had (fruitlessly, as it turned out) reopened the investigation into her e‐mails. These are breaches both Trump and Sessions praised effusively at the time, with Sessions even declaring that Comey had an “absolute duty” to act as he did. All of them, of course, were well known long before Trump took office and chose to retain Comey.
The most charitable thing one can say about this narrative is that it is not even intended as a serious attempt to advance a genuine rationale. It is an attempt to be cute. Having been directed to concoct a reason to eliminate Comey, the Attorney General ran with a slapdash pastiche of Democrats’ complaints. Anyone who’s been on a long car trip with a sibling knows this gag: “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!” The only people even pretending to take this explanation seriously are those paid for the indignity.