Mr. Comey’s tenure as head of the bureau has been marked by intense controversy and unusual decisions, drawing sustained attacks from all sides of the political spectrum.
The official reason given for Mr. Comey’s unceremonious termination, recommended by the Justice Department’s top two officials, was the director’s handling of the Clinton email mess and his management failures running an investigative force of 20,000-plus employees.
On its face, the timing of the move looks highly suspicious: Mr. Comey, as all the world knows, is overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, a probe that actually began last year.
Dismissing Mr. Comey in early May could lead one to believe the Trump White House is attempting to scuttle the investigation.
But while that argument may make Democrats feel good in their unending quest to impeach a president in his fourth full month in office, it really doesn’t hold much water.
The FBI investigation does not stop with Mr. Comey’s firing. Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe is leading the department while the Justice Department determines who will step in as acting director. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is overseeing the FBI in the Russia investigation due to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ voluntary recusal given his role in the 2016 Trump campaign.
There are reports that grand jury subpoenas were sent out to business associates of fired National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn. There is another report that Mr. Comey asked Mr. Rosenstein for additional resources for the Russia probe as recently as last week. The reports are unconfirmed but appear credible.
The firing may have been unexpected, but the reaction across official Washington was swift and entirely predictable. Democrats, who have spent the past six months calling for Mr. Comey’s head for allegedly torpedoing Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, suddenly began opposing the move at the precise moment that Mr. Trump made it.
“Never has [an] FBI director been so vociferously defended by a party that believes he threw a national election by going outside DOJ rules,” as the National Review’s Rich Lowry cleverly put it.
The hypocrisy was so blatant that even Democratic Sen. Christopher Murphy of Connecticut admitted that “it’s absolutely true that Democrats have been very critical of James Comey, and many of us did call for his resignation.”
That said, certainly the Trump White House could have been more strategic about handling its bombshell. Mr. Trump and his aides could have made the decision during the transition, the most appropriate time for a leadership change. They could have made it in the early weeks of the presidency. They certainly could have been better prepared to explain how and why the decision was made.
Most importantly, the Trump White House should have notified Mr. Comey personally, in private, before he was left to embarrassingly learn his fate on television while speaking to colleagues at an FBI field office in Los Angeles. This was not handled with class, and that will make attracting a first-rate successor even more challenging.
Democrats are now demanding a special counsel for the Russia probe be appointed. They will beat this drum every day from here on out, and I expect a hunger strike to break out at any moment.
As we have seen with Ken Starr and Patrick Fitzgerald in recent years, appointing a special counsel is almost always a terrible idea. The incentive to justify their own existence invariably leads special prosecutors to engage in fishing expeditions where the original “crime” is rarely prosecuted, but new crimes (“lying under oath,” for example) are. The investigations take months, if not years, have no end date and are expensive.
Congress would have to create — and President Trump sign off on — an independent 9/11-style commission, both of which seem unlikely. Passing such a bill would take months, and the investigation likely would take a year or more.
Letting the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees continue their work is in the national interest. New congressional hearings are already planned for next week. The FBI’s work appears to be ratcheting up, and the removal of one employee at the top won’t change that one bit.
But the appointment of a new FBI director does offer a unifying moment for the country, one that may allow for the partisan divide to be bridged in a significant and healing way. Mr. Trump should resist the urge to appoint a political loyalist, even though only 51 votes are required in the Senate since Democrats foolishly utilized the nuclear option.
Instead, Mr. Trump should aim to nominate someone capable of winning 70 or even 80 votes in the Senate, perhaps a retired judge like J. Michael Luttig; former Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, a former FBI agent; or even former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat-turned-independent.
The director of the FBI is given a 10-year appointment and occupies one of the most respected law enforcement positions in the world.
If you have listened to Republican and Democratic criticism over the past year, it is abundantly clear that the bureau badly needed new leadership. In a spirit of bipartisanship, Mr. Trump should seize this opportunity. The country will benefit.
• Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.
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