It now seems apparent it made sense for President Trump to fire FBI director Jim Comey in May 2017.
Comey’ animus toward the president and willingness to go to great lengths to get a special counsel appointed to investigate him, plus the points made in the memo from deputy attorney General Rod Rosenstein, seem to shore up Trump’s reasoning.
But on Thursday, CNN’s Stephen Collinson viewed it another way. In “Trump and Comey clash over outcome of Mueller probe,” Collinson said the firing amounted to more than ridding himself “of a troublesome, powerful figure who assessed that the president wanted to co-opt him into a patronage-style relationship and to infringe ethical barriers between the White House and Justice Department.”
Rather, “in the long term, by exploiting ill-defined norms governing the limits of executive authority, Trump either by accident or design, may have expanded the power of the presidency itself, setting a significant precedent for the future.”
He may have been “motivated to fire Comey over the then-FBI director’s oversight of the Russia investigation” – there are multiple reasons, many included in the Rosenstein memo, for firing Comey, and, as president, Trump did not have to supply a reason.
But the long-term outcome is that “a future unscrupulous commander-in-chief could use Trump’s treatment of Comey as justification for nefarious ends.”
Collinson quoted a professor from Cornell Law School: “It could send a signal to future presidents that they could do this and get away with it, and I think that is a very disturbing possibility. It seems to be creating a precedent that if a president doesn’t like an investigation that is getting close to the president, they can just dismiss the attorney general or the FBI director.”
Trump’s firing of Comey sent “immediate warnings that Trump had not only obstructed justice but had compounded his error by telling the nation about it on television,” Collinson wrote. This led to “Mueller’s appointment a few days later and two years of agony for the White House, which led to the prosecution and jailing of a number of Trump associates while subjecting the nation to a political nightmare.”
But the lesson to be learned now, according to Collinson, is that “Trump not only managed to ride himself of an FBI director who took an instant allergic reaction to him but was able to insulate himself from the potentially grave consequences of the dismissal.”
That’s why “history may see his conduct not as the act of a blundering neophyte unaware of constitutional norms, but of a president who found a way to amass more power and avoid accountability for doing so.”
Trump not only fired an FBI director committed to turning the tables against him, he hired an attorney general capable of turning the tables in his favor, Collinson wrote.
“[Barr’s] swift assumption of control over the investigation, culminating in his summary of the report, provided a valuable political service to Trump,” Collinson wrote. “His summary set the political narrative allowing the president to claim wrongly that he was totally exonerated and that his claims the probe was an illegal attempt to take him down were justified.”
This, Collinson wrote, is “why the attorney general’s role has some Democrats and other critics viewing his appointment as another variant of a successful presidential defensive play and power move.”
Obstruction always was going to be hard to prove, Collinson wrote. But it’s more complicated with Trump since most of the alleged obstructive behavior happened in public – on TV and Twitter.
“But it does seem to be a large coincidence that Trump found a permanent replacement for Sessions who had an expansive view of a president’s power to fire subordinates and how such action could bear on an obstruction case.”