It would be interesting to see a study about how much the overall productivity of people in the United States has been disrupted by the general dysfunction of the United States since last November. I am trying to write a book and keep other projects going. The ongoing dramas of the Trump administration provide the perfect excuse to yield to procrastination and lapse into neurotic behaviors like obsessive Twitter watching, while berating myself for not getting anything done. This post attempts to turn obsession back into productivity through writing.
A new drama began yesterday when James Comey was fired from his position as F.B.I. Director, supposedly because he had lost the confidence of the American public months before as a result of errors in the F.B.I. investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. Plenty of people have explained why this rationale is not credible and pointed out the likelihood that President Trump just wants to impede the F.B.I. investigation into Russian hacking and his administration’s ties to Russia. Other aspects of the firing are getting less attention, but they are also important, including the following:
- The Comey firing resembles the first Travel Ban roll out in that the manner in which it was implemented is as strange as the decision itself. Normally people being fired are informed about it in a face to face interview, or at the very least given their letter of dismissal before announcements are made to the press. They are asked to finish taking care of business and pass on information to other staff in order to ensure a smooth transition. One would expect this most of all for a job at the level of F.B.I. Director.
- Standard procedure also allows the person who is fired a chance to clear out their office and say goodbye to co-workers. Comey learned of his termination from the media while he was out of state. He had no prior notice and neither did the rest of the F.B.I. Trump’s blunt letter of dismissal tells Comey that he is “hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately.” If he was really fired because of something that happened months and weeks before, the abrupt style makes no sense. Such approaches are usually reserved for people who have committed crimes or are in extreme emotional states that make them an immediate danger to themselves or their co-workers.
- This could all be just an attempt to create shock and awe to distract from the investigation into Russian interference in the election. But making the move when Comey was in another state could also suggest that those who fired him wanted to prevent him or others at the F.B.I. from securing information of some kind. It would be interesting to know what is going on right now with Comey’s desk, papers, computer passwords, and so forth.
- Trump’s letter also expresses appreciation that Comey has told him on three occasions that he was not under investigation. This is nothing short of bizarre. It also seems unlikely that it is true. Trump has a history of twisting the words of those involved in the Russia investigation to claim that they agree with him, even when they don’t. Hopefully reporters will try to pin Trump down about what occasions he is referring to.
- Trump says he fired Comey because he mishandled the investigation into Clinton’s emails. The media is focusing on the ways in which Comey alienated Democrats by jeopardizing the Clinton campaign and likely influencing the outcome of the 2016 election. But many of Trump’s supporters believe that Trump fired Comey for not pursuing criminal remedies against Clinton and “locking her up.” Many hope that Trump will now appoint someone who will reopen the case and put Clinton in prison.
- Trump’s tweets about Comey don’t directly support this interpretation, but they don’t contradict it either. Trump’s tweets attack Democrats who object to Comey’s firing even though they criticized him for reopening the email issue just before the election. But Trump also tweeted a link to a Drudge Report article that says the FBI under Comey gave immunity inappropriately to Clinton aides (in addition to bungling the war on terrorism and overstepping its authority in data mining operations.)
- Rosenstein’s memo says that he “cannot defend the Director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails…” The memo goes on to say that Comey “usurp[ed] the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016” by announcing that the case would be closed with no prosecution. Rosenstein’s focus is on problems with the way the decision was announced, but some Trump supporters, and perhaps Trump himself, seem to interpret the memo to mean that Comey is now being fired because he did not prosecute Clinton.
- Could President Trump be planning to appoint a new F.B.I. Director who reopens the case against Clinton to provide additional distractions from the investigation into Russia, the 2016 elections, and the Trump administration? From a rational point of view this seems like a long shot. But nothing about this administration is rational.