M Omar Iftikhar
WASHINGTON was perhaps reliving the ugly memories of the Saturday Night Massacre, the day when former US President, Richard Nixon, when in power in 1973, fired Archibald Cox, an independent special prosecutor investigating the infamous Watergate Scandal. What happened on May 10, 2017, was no different. The news spread like wildfire. It was not a geopolitical act of defiance, but one that did shake the very walls of the White House and that of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ head office in Washington. ‘Trump fires FBI chief’ read the news headlines.
James Comey, the seventh Director of the FBI taking office in September 2013 while previously serving as US Deputy Attorney General and US Attorney for the Southern District of New York was considered to be irreproachable and flawless. However, he could not see his cards crumble in front of President Trump’s immovable decision. With the US media still questioning over the possible reasons for Comey’s firing, President Trump signaled at Comey’s way of moving forward with Hilary Clinton’s email investigation as the main cause for showing Comey the exit. Moreover, it was Comey who was investigating Republican’s involvement into conspiring with Russia to rig the US elections that Trump won. Even if there was something brewing up behind curtains between Trump’s camp and Russia during the pre-election era, Trump’s timing of firing Comey may not bode well for the US President’s reputation. Political critics, analysts, and commentators will wonder if Comey was terminated because of his probe into Republican-Russia connection. If Trump’s firing of Comey has led to national distress, it has also affected the stock markets. US stocks entered negative numbers as by the opening bell Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq fell -0.30, -0.1 and -0.02 pc respectively.
According to reports, President Trump was infuriated by the Russia investigation. He wanted these inquiries to disappear, however, with the FBI diligently following the trail to the truth; it would take a while for this probe to fade away. Perhaps James Comey’s ousting from office will delay such investigations. However, the political inclination of the new FBI director will determine how willingly the FBI would re-open the Russia investigation files again. Perhaps Comey’s firing is a case study for the incoming director – that every FBI director must understand his limits.
During President’s 110 days in office, he has fired the Attorney General and the National Security Officer. Trump completes a hat-trick of major firings by removing Comey and putting his image at stake, once again. While President Trump could have – through effective PR and diplomatic strategies – contained the fire he was trying to control with Russia investigation written all over it, his decision to fire Comey may as well put him into deep waters. Friction was evident between President Trump and Comey when Comey did admit in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating into the election campaign. Furthermore, when Comey denied Trump’s claims that former US President Barack Obama had tapped into his phones, the tension between Comey and Trump soared.
Perhaps the first instance that could have accentuated the friction between Trump and Comey was when the latter did not take much action against Hilary Clinton’s email investigation. Even trump opined that ‘Comey had done Clinton a favor by letting her off easy.’ Has Comey been fired because Trump did not want the FBI to reach to the end of the Russia probe or because he wanted Comey to place Clinton behind bars but could not? Perhaps both reasons have played their role. Such high-profile firings – without deliberation and taking key people into confidence – create a bureaucratic mess. A similar chaotic situation erupted at the FBI headquarters following Comey’s firing. No personnel was allowed to answer any calls while all queries and questions were being forwarded to the US Justice Department. If President Trump keeps pace with his illogical decisions, the US may as well come under the dystopian-type democracy where the word of the leader reigns supreme while all else is just fake news. In a somewhat twist in the narrative, President Trump received letters suggesting or recommending Comey’s firing from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and Jeff Sessions, the attorney general. It is interesting to note that the White House aide did not know the President would be receiving letters from them. Is President Trump following his own backdoor diplomatic policy? If this is the case, then keeping his front office personnel in the dark will only result in his five- year term coming to a premature end.
— The writer is a freelance columnist based in Karachi.