Thursday, May 11, 2017

FBI Director's Termination: Echoes of Watergate

Tasked with an open-ended assignment, I decided to investigate the Trump administration's recent termination of FBI director James Comey and its relation to Watergate -- a scandal of which I know embarrassingly little. While most Democrats are quick to call this firing “Nixonian,” I decided to do some investigation of my own. Following is a summary of what I’ve learned.


James Comey has led two investigations this year, one into each presidential candidate, both of which largely shaped the 2016 election. On July 5th, Washington reporters were called to an FBI briefing. Standing before them was director James Comey, who summoned them for an update on the status of the Clinton e-mail investigation. Essentially, he scolded her on national television, saying, “Any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position should’ve known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” However, he recommended that the DOJ not charge the secretary. This briefing was unique for two reasons: First, it is generally not the director that gives the briefing himself, and second, closing investigations are generally done clandestinely. Shortly beforehand, the FBI found that a Russian hacker had stolen a memo that read as follows: “Loretta Lynch [former Attorney General] will keep this case from getting too far afield. She’ll keep things in line.” Having seen this, Comey allowed Lynch to continue in the investigation. Lastly, only a week before the election, new evidence emerged in the Clinton case. Though nothing came of it, Comey violated three protocols of the FBI -- One, don’t talk about the Bureau’s investigative steps, two, don’t disclose details of ongoing investigations, and three, especially don’t do so nearing election time. Clinton’s “dishonesty/untrustworthiness,” according to a recent NYT poll, was the primary reason Trump voters chose him over her. The FBI director inflated these feelings, and because of this is in part blamed for her loss. Comey has been criticized for ostensibly handling these investigations in a partisan manner, so many think his recent termination was long overdue. This was the reason Trump gave for firing Comey.


That said, Comey is not viewed as a biased figure by any means -- quite the opposite. He relishes in his independent transparency. He once said that he would never play basketball with Obama, for fear of appearing too friendly with the president. Furthermore, before June 17th, 2015, the FBI failed their background check on Dylann Roof, who on that date shot 10 devotees in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Following, Comey invited FBI agents to a briefing, where he discussed the protocol for background checks and where they went wrong. Just as he did in the Clinton investigation, he was publicly transparent. It generally works in his favor.


Later in July, with the permission of the DOJ, Comey publicly announced that the FBI was opening an investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian Agents. Oddly, this inquest was led by the same lead investigator of the Clinton case (imagine having a busy year.) Unlike her investigation, however, the details of Trump’s have been kept largely quiet.

Not since Watergate, when Nixon fired Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October of 1973, has a president dismissed an official leading an investigation into him. Nixon ordered his termination shortly after Cox subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes. Everyone seems to be wondering, “why fire Comey now?” Whether or not the investigation was hitting too close to home for Trump’s liking remains to be seen. Currently, however, Democrats are calling for an independent entity to continue the investigation, should Trump replace Comey with his puppet, Chris Christie (or anyone else who will do his bidding.) Sources inside the FBI have claimed that his termination has only inflamed the want to bring Trump to justice. Clearly, this is a story whose conclusion has yet to pass. Until it does, though, it will invoke echoes of Watergate in Americans’ ears.