It would be nice to believe a president who presided over rallies where crowds chanted “Lock her up” and recently labeled FBI Director James Comey the “best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton” discovered a genuine interest in the Bureau’s reputation and credibility. But that would require the will to forget how much the former Director’s public pronouncements in July helped candidate Trump. After months of rumor-mongering and speculation, Comey explained to a national audience how the former Secretary of State had been “extremely careless” with classified material on her personal email server. The billionaire developer suddenly had a credible, nonpartisan figure who confirmed what Republican candidates and cable news hosts had been asserting for over a year. When that credible figure refused to charge the Democrat nominee it played into Trump’s claim that the game was rigged in Clinton’s favor, something he took full advantage of.
That lack of discretion surfaced again in March when the former US Attorney was testifying in front of a House committee and casually revealed a nine-month old counterintelligence probe. Comey’s motives are unclear — it’s doubtful he intended to smear the President or his former rival — but it is worth noting that each of his disclosures required bypassing Justice Department oversight, disregarding the Attorney General’s counsel, or violating basic protocol. Comey may have felt that Loretta Lynch’s meeting with Bill Clinton forced his hand, that the former Attorney General could not publicly decline to prosecute Secretary Clinton and avoid charges of a quid pro quo. By October the Director likely saw himself as the last honest man in Washington and has since become enamored with the attention a series of trips to Capitol Hill for closed-door briefings or testimony before Congress brought. In light of recent history Rod Rosenstein could easily make the case that a change was needed.
Once President Trump got involved that “stick of dynamite” his Deputy Press Secretary has been referring to went flying. For some unknown reason the former Celebrity Apprentice star was apparently told he is not being investigated, yet still sent his bodyguard to deliver the infamous letter. A Tuesday Night Massacre? Hardly. Consider how Trump’s rationale has evolved: first, he was following advice from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, then Director Comey had to go because “was not doing a good job,” now he’s a “showboat” and a “grandstander” whose fate was never going to be determined by Jeff Sessions’ input. Democrats branded Trump’s haphazard decision “Nixonan,” Fortune and The DailyKos quickly followed suit; critics were convinced the President’s decision was driven by a desire to protect himself and would have the desired effect, but missed an important factor.
Whatever Richard Nixon’s faults the one-time Vice President still had a measure of respect for the office he held, so he resigned and avoided a contentious, drawn-out impeachment. This President has an entirely different background. He hasn’t served on a school board, much less a legislature, and has no regard for judicial oversight or separation of powers. The former developer has been a CEO, so it’s no surprise he would post tweets about a “so-called judge,” fire an acting Attorney General and FBI Director, and threaten to “fight” the GOP Freedom Caucus — each of them were disobedient employees who in some way angered their boss. Trump and Nixon show a similar disdain for the media and fondness for law and order, but Mr. Brexit is more comparable to Bill Lumbergh than “Tricky Dick.”
As if to illustrate how different he is from the notoriously secretive 37th President, Trump tried to threaten the former Director by implying there were “tapes” of conversations between the two. The key point isn’t Trump’s tweet, but that acting Director Andrew McCabe countered his portrayal of an FBI in turmoil, pledged to continue its Russia inquiry, and inform Senate if any outside interests try to interfere. The danger for McCabe does not lie in denying the White House updates on the Bureau’s work, but in giving way to an obvious temptation to seek some form of payback. The best way for Congress to assist is to back away from their quest for a Special Counsel; they’ve got more pressing business, and may need to pivot by Friday.
The President will soon nominate a new Director — rumored prospects include Reps. Trey Gowdy and Mike Rogers, an ex-prosecutor, an erstwhile US Attorney, and a few wild cards. The President could, in a fit of whimsy, offer the job to a political ally with relevant experience like Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani, men who would be willing to consult with the White House. If this happens it’s going to take more than myopic resistance or personal contempt to gather 53 Senators willing to offer advice and refuse consent. Once a group of lawmakers gathers to challenge the President they will have to choose, at some point the office will be filled and Republicans are not going to vote for an overtly hostile nominee. That would mean accepting a relatively unknown commodity such as Texas Senator John Cornyn to block a flunky like Sheriff David Clarke; it’s the best choice available in a bad situation and has better odds of winning than impeachment.
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