James B. Comey was six and-a-half years into his ten-year tenure as FBI Director, when he was suddenly fired on Tuesday, May 9, by President Donald Trump. The only other FBI director to be dismissed before him was William Sessions, whom Bill Clinton sacked in 1993 over an ethics issue.
Trump acted ironically over an affair which dogged the 2016 presidential campaign that led to his election: Comey’s handling of the investigation against his Democratic Party rival, Hillary Clinton, on her use of a private server for official email correspondence when she was Secretary of State, although some of the mails were confidential and touched on national security.
Comey, in disclosing the affair at a press conference in July 2016, spoke of the substance of the FBI probe and cited the names of her associates involved. But he added that, although she was guilty of “reckless negligence,” she would not be prosecuted. Clinton has blamed this and a later Comey disclosure on the affair as one of the causes of her election defeat by Donald Trump.
On May 2, President Trump tweeted that the FBI director was “the best thing that ever happened to Hillary Clinton in that he gave her a free pass for many bad deeds.”
In the past few days, the FBI director’s testimony before a congressional committee has indicated that over and above the partisan dispute, there is one law for important people like Hillary Clinton and another for the ordinary American. Legal experts maintain that if Clinton broke the law, she too should stand trial, just as other wrongdoers, including CIA officers, generals and government officials were dismissed or put on trial for lesser offences.
The former FBI director also stands accused not only of unmasking alleged accomplices in the Clinton email affair, but of ordering American citizens to be placed under secret surveillance.
Comey’s dismissal took place in the middle of a congressional probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement.
The Democrats said his dismissal “raises profound questions about White House interference” in the probe. While the White House has countered repeatedly that the charge of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Moscow was trumped up by the Democrats to account for their candidate’s failure, the Democrats stand by their accusation of an intrigue between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence to defeat Clinton.
To support the charge, they hold up the WikiLeaks release of Clinton campaign emails which, they say, were obtained from Russian military intelligence hackers and published on the sayso of Trump’s campaign staff.
They also hold up the case of Mike Flynn, whom Trump fired after a short stint as his first national security adviser, over his ties with the Russian ambassador. Flynn later was disclosed to have been paid for appearing at a state event in Moscow where he was seen sitting at the same table as President Vladimir Putin.
The White House stressed that the broader probe into Russian interference in an American election would continue. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that Comey’s deputy, Andrew McCabe, would be the acting director of the FBI.
President Trump’s abrupt dismissal of one of the heads of America’s intelligence community has sparked a fierce debate in Washington. The Democrats, who not long ago held Comey responsible for their candidate’s defeat, are now up in arms against the way he was fired. Trump’s followers were also stunned by the step he took beyond all their expectations.
The Democrats are preparing to use the Comey dismissal as fodder for demanding a special prosecutor to probe the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with Russian intelligence, hoping it will open the door to his impeachment.