President Trump sent shockwaves through Washington D.C. Tuesday evening when he unexpectedly fired FBI Director James Comey. The decision immediately drew comparison's the President Nixon's Watergate scandal, as the timing and reasoning were suspect (not to mention the savage way Comey learned of his termination). Why anyone cares about Comey being fired boils down to one thing: the Russia investigation.
As the director of the FBI, Comey was leading the bureau's investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia. In March, Comey confirmed to Congress that the FBI was looking into whether Trump advisers worked with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. His exact words were that the FBI was "investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts."
Comey reportedly first learned of his termination as the news flashed across a TV, but he was later delivered a letter from the White House. President Trump wrote, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to lead the Bureau." The letter continued, "It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission."
Getting more specific, a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein explained that Comey was fired because he allegedly overstepped his authority, treated Hillary Clinton unfairly, and made the FBI look bad. "The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong," Rosenstein wrote. "As a result, the F.B.I. is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them."
Considering Comey announced he was closing the investigation into Clinton's emails without seeking prosecution back in July 2016, firing him now — in May 2017 — is nothing short of confusing.
At the moment, many people have a hard time believing the Trump administration would fire anyone for allegedly mistreating Clinton because 1) she was Trump's rival and 2) Trump called Comey "the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton" for giving her "a free pass for many bad deeds" just a few days ago. Not to mention, one of the rallying cries of Trump's campaign supporters bashing Clinton was "lock her up."
It's not like Comey was liked by Democrats and despised by Republicans, either. Politicians from both parties have criticized the former FBI head, with Democrats questioning how he handled the Clinton investigation, particularly his decision to announce that the FBI was looking into newly discovered emails from Clinton's time as secretary of state days before the presidential election.
But, people who previously raised concerns about Comey were still worried about his departure.
"Were these investigations getting too close to home for the president?” asked Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer at a news conference Tuesday night. “Are people going to suspect cover-up? Absolutely.”
Even former Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook was skeptical, especially since federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to people who worked with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (who's under scrutiny for alleged dealings with Russia). CNN learned of the subpoenas the same day Comey was fired.
Mook told CNBC, "The idea that the same day that we find out subpoenas are going out relevant to the Russia investigation into President Trump's campaign, he decides to suddenly fire the director of the FBI because he claims he's upset about he handled Hillary's e-mails." Mook added, "The argument is absurd."
There were inevitably comparison's to the 1973 "Saturday Night Massacre," when President Nixon fired the independent prosecutor overseeing the investigation into Watergate and the attorney general and his deputy resigned. The Richard Nixon Library even tweeted Tuesday, "FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI."
Democrats are calling for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign's potential involvement with Russia. Rep. Adam Schiff, who serves on the the House Intelligence Committee, called for an independent prosecutor, saying there are "profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal manner.”
However, Trump tweeted Wednesday morning, "Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!"