CBS “Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, a major league anti-Trump media star, was taken aback when, upon hearing that FBI Director James Comey had been fired, his audience broke into cheers and wild applause. That changed once the host explained that it was President Trump who fired Mr. Comey in an outrageous, unethical and hopefully illegal attempt to halt an FBI investigation into whether his campaign had been acting as Vladimir Putin’s puppet during the 2016 campaign.
The audience reacted much as California’s crazy congresswoman, Maxine Waters, had when she declared that she would have supported firing the FBI director had Hillary Clinton been elected and handed him his walking papers, but could never support Mr. Trump’s doing so. Hypocrisy isn’t limited to Washington-based politicians, and can even infect Mr. Colbert’s very liberal audience.
Mrs. Waters and Mr. Colbert’s audience, however, reflect the fact that Mr. Comey has no real friends or supporters in either party or at either end of the political spectrum and in Washington, friends are all one has when trouble strikes. Oh, the same Democrats who once called for his head on a pike are willing now to defend him as an incorruptible law enforcement official who was fired not because of ineptitude, an inability to walk the tightrope in a partisan capital or even because during his tenure as director he damaged the FBI’s brand in the eyes of literally millions of Americans. But a willingness to exploit his demise for their immediate ends does not make them his friends.
Those who claimed Mr. Trump had no right to fire Mr. Comey were engaged in wishful thinking as the president had every right to do so. They may attribute the worst of motives to him, but that doesn’t mean they are right. They, after all, consider the man evil and attribute the basest of motives to his every act and utterance. Mr. Trump, for his part, handled the whole matter in the amateurish way we have come to expect from one who is learning on the job. That may do him some short-term damage, but his next move will do far more to help or hurt both the FBI and Mr. Trump than firing Mr. Comey.
Mr. Trump must now select someone with a reputation for integrity and competence to replace the man he fired; someone whose every move won’t be seen as political and who can restore some luster to the FBI as an institution.
A lot of names have been mentioned and more will surface in the next few days and weeks, but many of them are men and women who would face problems on Capitol Hill unless Mr. Trump wants to get Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to force his nominee through on a straight party vote. Doing so would be a mistake, as would appointing someone like former New York City Rudy Giuliani, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christy or South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy. All three are good men and might do a good job, but all would be seen as unacceptable, partisan Trumpsters by both the Senate and the American public.
It really doesn’t matter whether the FBI director is a Republican or a Democrat as long as he or she is dedicated to avoiding acting as a partisan. Some of the names mentioned that might be worth batting around are former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as Charles Krauthammer has suggested, or a federal judge or prosecutor with a proven record of impartiality.
National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke has even mentioned the name of Judge Merrick Garland, who President Obama tried to put on the Supreme Court. Mr. Cooke recognizes that the head of the FBI investigates wrongdoing and enforces the law rather than rewriting it as a Supreme Court justice like Judge Garland might. The fact that someone would be an extremely bad fit in one role doesn’t mean he might not be an almost perfect fit in another.
Ms. Rice and Judge Garland may not be the right choices, but those floating their names are on the right track. The right appointment could prove a political home run for a president under fire.
Mr. Trump is no fool, and neither is his attorney general or other advisers on such matters. Those apparently interviewing for the job include Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a former judge, and acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, along with a couple of federal judges, a former prosecutor and other FBI veterans. Mr. Trump’s team has it within their power to help his administration and the image of the FBI with the right choice and, in doing so, force the hand of those who are painting themselves into a corner by pledging unbridled resistance to whoever is named.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.
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