By Michael Barone
Why did President Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey now? The answer, as my Washington Examiner colleague Byron York has argued, is that he waited until after his impeccably apolitical deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was in place as Comey’s direct superior. Rosenstein was confirmed April 25, and his memorandum titled “Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI” was appended to Trump’s firing letter exactly two weeks later.
In that document, Rosenstein characterized Comey’s July 5 statement on the FBI’s investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s secret email system as “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.” In support of that proposition, he cited comments from five former deputy attorneys general and four former attorneys general of both major political parties (including Eric Holder, who held both offices).
Who is Rosenstein? He started off as a career Justice Department lawyer and was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland by George W. Bush in 2005. He was one of only three — out of 93 nationwide — U.S. attorneys kept on during the Obama administration. This could not have happened without the approval of Maryland’s Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.
Both of them are paragons of integrity with long experience in the swampland of Maryland politics. Mikulski was elected to the Baltimore City Council in 1971 and to Congress in 1976. Cardin was elected to the state Legislature in 1966 and to Congress in 1986. Both saw successive Maryland governors, Spiro Agnew and Marvin Mandel, ousted from office under criminal charges. Both surely wanted a competent and apolitical federal prosecutor and believed they had one in Rosenstein.
This makes mincemeat of Democrats’ cries that Trump fired Comey to kill any investigation of Russian collusion in the presidential election. Rosenstein will be in charge of that, seeing as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself. And Trump’s nominee for FBI director will receive close scrutiny from the Senate.
It’s similarly far-fetched to compare this to Richard Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973. For some Democrats and journalists, every Republican military initiative is Vietnam and every possible scandal Watergate. That’s a measure of the nostalgic perspective of the baby-boom generation. We’re as many years away from Vietnam and Watergate as they were from the 1920s.
Can something be said in defense of Comey? He was put in a terrible position by Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Obama Justice Department. Justice officials downplayed the criminal nature of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails and granted immunity to Clinton aides rather than summon them before a grand jury. That amounts to weighting the scales of justice in favor of the administration’s preferred candidate for president.
So does the June 27 meeting on the Phoenix airport tarmac of Bill Clinton and then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who revealed herself to be a shameless political hack. That meeting was surely intended to be secret, as was the illegal Hillary Clinton email setup, with which she sent easily hackable classified information.
When the meeting was revealed, Lynch said she would go along with the FBI’s decision on prosecution but didn’t formally recuse herself. One question never answered is why she didn’t do so and let Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (the latest liberal “hero” for her bewildering congressional testimony this week) make the decision.
One can understand why Comey could have felt miffed when Lynch left him publicly exposed as the one who would decide whether the putative Democratic presidential nominee would be criminally prosecuted. If an FBI director shouldn’t decide who gets prosecuted, as Rosenstein correctly argued, he certainly shouldn’t have to make that call when the decision could determine who will be elected president of the United States.
Comey’s July 5 statement made clear that Hillary Clinton had violated Title 18, Section 793(f) of U.S. Code, put in place by the Espionage Act. But he added to the words of the statute an intent requirement and so recommended that she not be prosecuted. It’s not hard to imagine that he felt entitled to inflict political damage on someone for whom the Obama Justice Department had put in the fix.
That makes Comey only the latest victim of the Clintons, who, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tom and Daisy Buchanan, smash up “things and creatures” and then retreat “back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it (is) that (keeps) them together, and let other people clean up the mess they (have) made.”
The mess continues, as Democrats howl against the removal of an official whose removal they demanded up through lunchtime Tuesday and continue to search, Ahab-like, for evidence that Russia somehow stole the election.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.
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