It is curious to see Democrats, who had no good way to say for former FBI Director James Comey during the election because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton emails debacle, fiercely criticize his sacking which they are linking to Russiagate.
The White House denies Comey was sacked over Russiagate. With hindsight Comey did make one serious error over the course of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. This was not his decision to reopen the investigation in the run up to the election when some of Hillary Clinton’s emails were found in a computer in the possession of Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Hillary Clinton aide and confidante Huma Abedin. Rather it was his decision to announce the closure of the original investigation instead of leaving that to Loretta Lynch, Barack Obama’s Attorney General.
During his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee Comey said he took this extraordinary step because Loretta Lynch had compromised herself by being seen talking in public to Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton’s husband. Whilst that might have been true, it is debatable whether it was wise or proper because of that for Comey to intervene. Arguably he should have left the matter to Loretta Lynch and Barack Obama to sort out.
The matter is made worse because the decision to drop the investigation was arguably wrong and premature. There appears to have been at least a case to answer and the decision whether or not to prosecute should arguably not have been made by a police investigator but by a prosecutor ie. by the Justice Department.
That Comey knew at the time that he was wrong to close down the investigation and to meddle in work which properly speaking belonged to the Justice Department is shown by his decision to hold a news conference directly after he made his decision in order to explain it. Needless to say the explanation satisfied no one, with Republicans angry that the investigation was shut down prematurely and Democrats angry at the criticisms Comey felt obliged to make of Hillary Clinton during the news conference.
Apparently the whole episode shook confidence in Comey within the FBI, and it would not be surprising if many agents there are happy to see him go.
However inevitably the Democrats are claiming that the real reason Comey has been sacked is because of Russiagate, and as I write this the liberal media is full of comparisons with the so-called ‘Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973 when the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General both resigned rather than carry out President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox (Cox was finally fired by Solicitor General Robert Bork).
The comparison is completely misplaced. In this case far from the Justice Department resisting the President’s order to fire Comey, it is upon the recommendation of the Justice Department that Comey has been fired.
Having said this, there is no doubt relations between the President and Comey have deteriorated to breaking point, and it is not difficult to see why.
The simple fact is that either through incompetence or fear Comey has botched the Russiagate investigation. Not only did he not insist on the FBI examining John Podesta’s and the DNC’s computers – choosing instead to rely on the conclusions of CrowdStrike, which is a private company – but in 9 months of investigations the Russiagate has failed to produce any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians whatsoever. Notwithstanding this the investigation is continuing with no end in sight.
By contrast whilst the Russiagate investigation is going nowhere, with no reason to think it will ever go anywhere because no evidence of wrongdoing or impropriety by any US citizen has ever been discovered, Comey has quite obviously been resisting the President’s demands to investigate the leaks of classified information to the media by former Obama officials and by officials of the US intelligence and security services, even though this most definitely is a crime.
To compound the problem, there is the greater fact that despite earlier denials it is now confirmed that US citizens like Carter Page against whom there has never been any evidence of wrongdoing were placed under surveillance during the election period by the FBI under cover of the Russiagate investigation. As I have repeatedly said, and as others are now saying, this is the true scandal of the 2016 election. The treatment of Carter Page in particular has now tipped over into outright persecution.
All this would be bad enough, but it has become increasingly clear as a result of Comey’s testimony to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that he suffers from an alarming ignorance of Russia, which is the country whose alleged espionage activities he is supposed to be investigating. Thus during his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee it turned out for example that he was ignorant of basic facts about Gazprom, Russia’s biggest company and the export arm of its gas industry.
The result is that instead of the Russiagate investigation being based on actual knowledge of Russia, it depends to a dangerous degree on the usual set of paranoid assumptions widespread about it in the West which it turns out Comey himself shares, and which has led Comey to give credence to the fantastic assertions contained in the Trump Dossier whose compiler Christopher Steele has admitted relies on information, which is both unverified and which has already on occasion been shown to be wrong.
Significantly during his testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee Comey admitted that it was he who insisted on the unverified (and unverifiable) Trump Dossier being attached to the classified version of the ODNI report into the Russian hacking allegations, which was given in January to President Obama and to President elect Trump, even though Comey must have known that doing so would sharply increase the possibility that the Trump Dossier would be made public by the media.
It is not surprising therefore that President Trump, the senior officials of the Justice Department, and the rest of the Trump administration, have lost confidence in Comey. Frankly, with Comey in charge, I had begun to wonder whether the Russiagate investigation would ever be brought to an end, with Comey in order to cover up his previous errors having a personal stake in keeping it going indefinitely.
If the decision to fire Comey was justifiable and necessary, it will nonetheless provoke a political storm, with the Democrats claiming that it is intended to abort an investigation that was “getting too close”. The question is whether the President and the administration can resist the storm.
My best guess is that they can. It bears repeating again that 9 months after the Russiagate investigation was launched no evidence has come to light even of a crime being committed, much less of anyone having perpetrated a crime, or of any crime being covered up.
I say this because the various “crimes” of which President Trump’s former National Security Adviser General Michael Flynn is accused – under the Logan Act and for failing to disclose financial payments from various agencies in Turkey and Russia – have no direct connection to the central allegation of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia which forms the heart of the Russiagate scandal, for which there is no evidence whatsoever.
In light of this I cannot see how any claim that the investigation was “getting too close” is remotely sustainable, and I doubt the Democrats will in the end be able to sustain it.
Hopefully with Comey gone it will now be possible for his successor to take a fresh look at this mess, to sort out fiction from fact, and to bring the investigation back on track. If so then I have no doubt the investigation will be brought to an end quickly, hopefully after all the supposedly ‘secret evidence’ about which we have heard so much is finally exposed to the light of day.