Streetwise Professor

May 12, 2017

Trump Axes Comey, But Hillary (and Bill) Put His Head on the Block

Filed under: Politics — The Professor @ 9:37 am

Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey has released yet another frenzy of hysteria in The Swamp. One has to take one’s amusement where one finds it these days, and in this episode that would be from watching Democrats and anti-Trumpers who only days ago were calling for Comey’s head in a basket, now shrieking laments and rending garments because . . . Comey’s head is in a basket. If I roll my eyes any more I am going to detach a retina.

One other source of amusement is that Hillary, who couldn’t shut up about Comey since the election, has been silent since he got it in the neck.

The reigning narrative is that Trump is attempting to subvert justice by impeding the investigation of his ties with Russia. If this is what he was thinking, he is sadly deluded. Congressional investigations continue, and if anything, firing Comey will galvanize them. Further, the FBI personnel actually doing the investigation are likely to continue to do so, and if they are indeed onto something the firing will only make them more suspicious and motivated.

Trump being Trump, I think the truth is probably very different. Two things stand out to me. First, Trump stated in his letter that Comey had personally absolved him of the Russian accusations on three separate occasions. (Today Trump doubled down on that, saying Comey better hope there are no “tapes” of their conversations if he was thinking of leaking a denial.) Second, Trump is/was reportedly furious at the way Comey absolved Hillary last summer. Putting those pieces together, my guess is that it went down something like the following. Comey tells Trump that he is not under investigation and/or that there is no evidence of Russo-Trump collusion. Trump demands that Comey state that publicly. Comey demurs, saying that would be a violation of procedure. Trump loses it, and says “you did it for Hillary!” Comey mumbles something about how that was different, and then goes in front of Congress and refuses to admit that he erred in his handling of Hillary’s email. Trump figures that the guy is an untrustworthy political hack, and goes into Apprentice mode.

Truth be told, regardless of the political advisability of the firing, Comey had justly earned his termination. Comey’s investigation of Clinton was very irregular from the first: he violated standard procedures at every turn, which in addition to being wrong in itself, would make a mockery of any appeal to the need to be scrupulous in following them now. Further, he had arrogated to himself the responsibilities of the Attorney General by deciding not to prosecute Clinton. He sucked up to the Lynch (and Obama and Clinton) by taking her off the hook of making the prosecutorial call. When that unleashed a political storm from the right, he tacked and released his eve-of-the-election letter. Then he crowned this series of misadventures by mis-stating the basis for the renewed investigation in testimony before Congress: Huma shared only a handful of emails with Anthony Wiener, not the hundreds or thousands Comey claimed in his testimony.

Richard Epstein, hardly a Trumpophile summarizes well:

But, if anything, he [AAG Rod Rosenstein] understated the case against Comey. First, he treated the initial investigation of Hillary Clinton back in March 2015 with kid gloves. There were the inexcusable decisions to grant immunities to key Clinton backers without first serving them with a subpoena that would have allowed the FBI to extract a quid pro quo for any immunity that thereafter might be granted. Second, the FBI allowed Clinton’s key aide Cheryl Mills, Clinton’s former chief of staff, to act as her legal counsel, even though she herself was a legitimate target of investigation who could have faced charges. And they did not conduct any of the ambush interviews that are commonly given in cases where criminal prosecution is warranted. The obvious inference is that Comey was kowtowing to his superiors in the Obama White House.

Next, of course, was his public statement on July 5, 2016, in which he gave a thoroughly unsatisfactory explanation as to why he chose not to prosecute Clinton for her use of an unauthorized server that, in a case involving lesser persons, would have resulted in serious criminal charges, wholly without regard as to whether unauthorized persons hacked into the site (which they surely did).

Once Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as Judge Laurence Silberman wrote, “sort of half-recused herself” from the case, any charging decision should have been made by or at the direction of Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general. As Rosenstein rightly said in his memo, no experienced law enforcement figure thought that Comey acted correctly in issuing a public statement that explained his point of view.

Finally, his late October surprise, rightly castigated by none other than the New Yorker’s Cassidy, that he was conducting another investigation of Clinton, one that went nowhere, was likewise a breach of his duties.

The common response to this line of attack is that criticisms of Comey’s conduct in the Clinton investigation had nothing to do with the president’s decision, which was made, we are confidently told (on the basis of no firm evidence), because Comey was hot on the trail of information about possible ties between Trump, his supporters, and the Russians during the campaign. But it is also the case that Comey has made no effort to distance himself from this earlier conduct, and indeed affirmed in his Senate testimony of May 3, 2017, that with respect to his October 28 letter on Clinton, even though the episode had made him “mildly nauseous,” he would do it all over again.

The past events thus are linked closely to the future events. If the mistakes Comey made could have justified his firing in either 2015 or 2016, the passage of time does not cure those improper decisions.

Comey played the part of political weasel throughout, and his fate was the one the like usually suffer.

As for this being a “Constitutional crisis” or a “coup” (as David Frum and others hyperventilated), puh-lease. Trump is Chief Executive, and the FBI is in the executive branch. QED. Even Comey acknowledged that he serves at the president’s pleasure. As for a coup. Er, it would be a coup if the FBI Director removed the president, not the other way around.

Although Comey wove the basket in which his head now lies, ultimately  Hillary Clinton is the one who put his head on the block. Her grotesque misjudgment and malfeasance in using private email and lying about it repeatedly set in train the events that culminated in Comey’s firing. But this is nothing new, is it? Recall what Jim McDougall said, years ago: “I think the Clintons are really sort of like tornadoes moving through people’s lives. I’m just one of the people left in the wake of their passing by, but I have no whining or complaining to do, because I have lots of company.” Though departed from this  vale of tears, Mr. McDougall has yet more company, in the form of one James Comey.

Update: I should add that Bill Clinton is culpable as well. His meeting with Lynch on the tarmac in Phoenix “forced” her sort-of-half-recusal (to paraphrase Lawrence Silberman). I put “forced” in quotes because that may have been Lynch’s intention in meeting Clinton. Regardless of whether it was a blunder, or planned, the meeting with Clinton is what prompted the self-perceived Dudley Do-Right Comey to determine that he had to do Lynch’s job for her in order to maintain the public’s faith in the justice system. (Ha!) He shouldn’t have given her the out. (Calling him Dudley Do-Right gives him the benefit of the doubt, by the way. There are other more cynical interpretations that are observationally equivalent.) Regardless, Bill played a role in Comey’s decision to assume responsibilities that were not his, which was a legitimate reason to fire him. And note that McDougall referred to the Clintons plural: they usually are both involved in wrecking lives.

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17 Comments »

  1. Good summary analysis. Comey’s poor judgment in prosecuting Martha Stewart and Frank Quattrone on dubious charges should have precluded him from ever being appointed FBI Director in the first place. His conduct as FBI Director was simply a continuation of that poor judgment.

    Comment by Tom Kirkendall — May 12, 2017 @ 9:46 am

  2. excellent

    I’m not sure, but I think the screeching, screaming, squealing, hyperventilating, weeping and gnashing of teeth on the part of The Unhinged – Dimwitcrats, libtards, and their midiot (media idiot) compadres – is falling flat on its face.

    The “beautiful” march of The Unhinged towards socialism/communism, political correctness, and total power was interrupted by Trump.

    If Romney had taken the midiots on a bit stronger, he would have been the first to stop the march (recall how lardbutt Candy Crowely helped Obama).

    As it is, it is now all in the open – is there any doubt whatsoever that there is a leftist media? Chris Mathews no longer gets tingles up his leg – he is literally soiling his pants while screaming and screeching about Trump. So are all his leftist buddies on CNN and PMSNBC and NY Times and WaPoop and elsewhere.

    Investigations – that’s the ticket, investigations. Lots and lots and lots of investigations. Everything else has failed – claims of “emoluments,” “insanity”, Rooshans, etc., etc., etc.

    What to investigate? Everything – it doesn’t have to be visible. “There’s something there.” “Trump is trying to cover up something – that’s not there.”

    Let’s investigate Rooshans forever.

    Comment by elmer — May 12, 2017 @ 9:55 am

  3. Much of the world has today discovered what hacking is like. It’s not much like the invisible “Russian hacking” of the presidential election, I must say.

    I’m waiting for the first moron to accuse Trump of being behind today’s hacking, as a distraction from the Comey affair.

    Comment by dearieme — May 12, 2017 @ 5:01 pm

  4. Shrug. Wasn’t the mistake failing to fire him the first day?

    Comment by FTR — May 12, 2017 @ 6:23 pm

  5. ‘Comey played the part of political weasel throughout, and his fate was the one the like usually suffer.’

    Yep.

    And still no news about Weiner’s laptop, Weiner himself, or the 650,000 State Department / Clinton Foundation emails that the laptop contains. Let’s hope that changes with the new faces in the AG’s department.

    Comment by Global Super-Regulator on Lunch Break — May 13, 2017 @ 7:54 am

  6. Using Game of Thrones as the prototype, it looks like Comey was aiming to be Varys, but ended up being Pycelle.

    Comment by M. Rad. — May 13, 2017 @ 9:03 am

  7. @Global Super-Reg —- I recall that someone from NYPD promised that if nothing was done about Weiner as far as prosecution, they would make sure to get it done. I agree with you.

    Comment by elmer — May 13, 2017 @ 10:23 am

  8. I don’t watch all the pissing and moaning produced by PMSNBC and various other Unhinged.

    I did channel surf for a few seconds, catching John Dean coming back from the dead on PMSNBC to chime in on “this is just like Watergate” – no, wait, PMSNBC has this now as “the KGB has infiltrated the US – it’s worse than Watergate, because Watergate was just a burglary.”

    And a NY Slimes political writer lamenting the fact that all the pissing and shitting by the Unhinged in Washington DC has not “permeated” down to the great unwashed in the homeland.

    Soooo sad – the great march towards communism and transgender bathrooms was interrupted by the presidential election by a guy who knew what to do to win.

    So the response of The Unhinged, which includes Shmuck Schumer, Botox Peelousy, and Maxine Watermelon with the James Brown wig, has been to piss and tell everyone it’s raining, and to defecate all over the place.

    And then to complain and kvetch and moan and groan and screech and squeal about how noone is accepting their behavior.

    In other words, the Unhinged can’t understand why people are not as stupid as the Unhinged think they are.

    It just wasn’t supposed to be this way.

    Comment by elmer — May 13, 2017 @ 10:30 am

  9. Conservative Tree House has an interesting timeline:

    So let’s add President Trump’s meeting with FBI Director James Comey into the timeline of Sally Yates, and add her version of what McGahn’s concerns were about the content of the afternoon meeting:

    •Friday January 20th – Inauguration

    •Tuesday January 24th – Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was interviewed at the White House by the FBI.

    •Wednesday January 25th – The Department of Justice received a detailed readout from the FBI agents who had interviewed Flynn. Yates said she felt “it was important to get this information to the White House as quickly as possible.”

    •Thursday January 26th – (morning) Yates called McGahn first thing that morning to tell him she had “a very sensitive matter” that had to be discussed face to face. McGahn agreed to meet with Yates later that afternoon.

    •Thursday January 26th – (afternoon) Sally Yates traveled to the White House along with a senior member of the DOJ’s National Security Division, Bill Priestap, who was overseeing the matter. This was Yates’ first meeting with McGahn in his office, which also acts as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF).

    Yates said she began their meeting by laying out the media accounts and media statements made by Vice President Mike Pence and other high-ranking White House officials about General Flynn’s activity “that we knew not to be the truth.”

    According to Sally Yates testimony, she and Bill Priestap reportedly presented all the information to McGahn so the White House could take action that they deemed appropriate. When asked by McGahn if Flynn should be fired, Yates answered, “that really wasn’t our call.”

    Yates also said her decision to notify the White House counsel had been discussed “at great length.” According to her testimony: “Certainly leading up to our notification on the 26th, it was a topic of a whole lot of discussion in DOJ and with other members of the intel community.”

    •Friday January 27th – (morning) White House Counsel Don McGahn called Yates in the morning and asked if she could come back to his office.

    •Friday January 27th – (late afternoon) According to her testimony, Sally Yates returned to the White House late that afternoon. One of McGahn’s topics discussed was whether Flynn could be prosecuted for his conduct.

    Specifically, according to Yates, one of the questions McGahn asked Yates was, “Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another?” She explained that it “was a whole lot more than that,” and reviewed the same issues outlined the prior day.

    McGahn expressed his concern that taking action might interfere with the FBI investigation of Flynn, and Yates said it wouldn’t. “It wouldn’t really be fair of us to tell you this and then expect you to sit on your hands,” Yates had told McGahn.

    McGahn asked if he could look at the underlying evidence of Flynn’s conduct, and she said they would work with the FBI over the weekend and “get back with him on Monday morning.”

    •Friday January 27th – (evening) In what appears to be only a few hours later, President Trump is having dinner with FBI Director James Comey where President Trump asked if he was under investigation.

    Now, accepting the politicization of the entire Russian Conspiracy Narrative that was leading the headlines for the two months prior to this dinner; and knowing moments earlier your Chief White House counsel informs you that two political operatives (Yates and Priestap) within the DOJ were providing classified intelligence reports about General Flynn; and knowing the prior months (Nov/Dec/Jan) were fraught with leaks from intelligence reports identical to those discussed; wouldn’t you perhaps think that any action you take could be utilized to add fuel to this Russian narrative? And/Or be used by these same leak facilitators to make something seem like something it is not?

    Think about it.

    If you were President under those circumstances, wouldn’t you ask FBI Director James Comey what the deal was with these investigations, and whether or not you were under investigation BEFORE you took action to retain or fire Mike Flynn?

    Given the circumstances it could appear, and most definitely should be considered, that the President was being ‘set-up’ to impede an FBI investigation by taking action against Flynn.

    If Trump took action – What mechanism was in place for the President to protect himself from accusations of impropriety and impeding an investigation?

    Who is to say Yates and Priestap would stand behind the White House and support action taken by the President?

    What confidence would President Trump have that Yates/Priestap would speak publicly about their advice?

    What would FBI Director Comey and Asst. FBI Director McCabe do with a President Trump conversation about Mike Flynn who was “under investigation”?

    Remember, for reference: On February 15th while discussing another issue FBI Assistant Director Andrew McCabe asked Chief of Staff Reince Priebus for 5 minutes alone after the meeting. At the one-on-one McCabe told Priebus the New York Times Russia and Trump campaign story was a “bunch of BS”.

    Priebus asked McCabe if McCabe would be able to say that publicly. McCabe said he would check. Later, McCabe called back and said he couldn’t issue a statement about it.

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2017/05/12/president-trump-drops-another-moab-media-missing-sally-yates-and-james-comey-timeline/

    Comment by Margaret — May 13, 2017 @ 12:40 pm

  10. Another political operative, Asst. Director of Counter Intelligence, Bill Priestap, who accompanied acting AG Sally Yates to the meeting with White House Counsel Don McGahn, is a Hillary Clinton campaign donor.

    Bill Priestap is married to Sabina Menshell a self-employed “consultant” with a history of donations to Democrat candidates, specifically to Hillary Clinton.

    Priestap and/or McCabe decided NOT to brief the Republicans on the Russian hacking investigation. Meanwhile, the Democrats via Loretta Lynch, were briefed.

    President Trump was expected to trust this crew?

    Seriously?

    https://theconservativetreehouse.com/2017/05/12/president-trump-drops-another-moab-media-missing-sally-yates-and-james-comey-timeline/

    Comment by elmer — May 13, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

  11. Prof: Sorry to say this but I think YOU are the one sadly deluded. Albeit on a narrow point. I have no argument with Comey’s firing: he had it coming. But please just reflect on the following: “Comey tells Trump that he is not under investigation and/or that there is no evidence of Russo-Trump collusion.”

    You presume too much! Trump’s brain (actually nobody’s brain really but Trump’s brain especially) is not an accurate tape recorder. Because Trump does not listen to what people say to him, looking for nuance and ‘fading’. Rather Trump hears what he wants to hear. Even electronic recordings when processed by the Trump brain do not say the things that Trump says he hears. Comey is a consummate bureaucrat and rather lawyerly in his speech. I find it implausible that he came out with a definitive negative on the collusion charge and a straightforward clearance on Trump personally. He might have said: “we haven’t found anything incriminating yet …” or “we have not undertaken an investigation of your (Trump’s) personal role as of this date …” which in the Trump brain reads as a straight-out exoneration.

    Trump lives in a world defined by wish fulfilment (his wishes, naturally). If you don’t bear that in mind, your judgments are likely to go astray.

    Comment by Simple Simon — May 14, 2017 @ 1:51 am

  12. High school students are being told “if there’s no jobs at any particular moment … it’s because the people like Donald Trump are not being FORCED to hire us”

    https://youtu.be/ENlsl4IDe9A?t=13m23s

    Is America living through “Atlas Shrugged” for real? The required quality of the political class seems to be there already, and I remember the book was starting with a “shale boom” before this sort of economic theory took over.

    Comment by Ivan — May 14, 2017 @ 9:45 am

  13. @Simple Simon
    It would be easy to release the tapes and the public individually could make their own reasonable judgements. My guess is that a political hackism outweighed legal training and objective control. If Comey was very circumspect in what he said then Trump would not be able to use the tapes as a threat. Comey could easily say-loose the tapes of war because I didn’t say what you imply. The fact that Comey hasn’t done so is an indication that the tapes support Trump’s claims. Comey’s behavior dominated as it has been by politics has been erratic and so my bet is that Trump has tapes that support his implications. This isn’t a one man game but a two man game and both are acting consistent with what Trump implies. I guess the Dem’s only claim could be the Russians doctored the tapes.

    Comment by pahoben — May 15, 2017 @ 8:08 am

  14. @pahoben er … Comey doesn’t have the tapes. Trump does. So let’s see what the WH lawyers make of them. If no release, it would seem that the tapes did not record what Trump believes they recorded.

    Comment by Simple Simon — May 17, 2017 @ 1:52 am

  15. @pahoben
    And there’s this: “Source: Comey is ‘not worried about any tapes'”

    Comment by Simple Simon — May 17, 2017 @ 1:55 am

  16. @Simple Simon
    Er…I know who has the tapes so if nothing Trump couldn’t use them as an effective threat against Comey because Comey knows what is on the tapes. If tapes don’t support Trump then Comey calls his bluff and the public can make reasonable judgements about what was said.

    If not scaredthen easy for Comey to say you are lying so release the tapes.

    Comment by pahoben — May 17, 2017 @ 3:27 pm

  17. @Simple Simon
    There is no more profitable a situation in games of…chance then if your opponent tries to bluff and you know his hole cards.

    Comment by pahoben — May 18, 2017 @ 3:41 am

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