Not since Richard Nixon has a President of the United States fired someone who was investigating the President. It didn’t go well for Richard Nixon, and it’s not going to to well for Donald Trump.
The firing of James Comey caught us all off guard, and for many of us — especially those watching The Handmaid’s Tale, or even have a passing knowledge of the history of democracies-turned-dictatorships — it felt like a startling, terrifying moment, the beginning of something to be truly concerned about. In the movie of this moment, firing the Director of the FBI is the scene that comes right before the dissolution of Congress, and two scenes before we become a police state. That’s a horrifying thought.
It’s not going to happen here.
Donald Trump has struggled to get anything done in the first four months of his Presidency, and beyond a series of mostly toothless executive orders (one of which has been overturned in courts, twice) and pushing a garbage health care bill that the Senate tossed into the trash through the House, Trump has accomplished next to nothing, aside from an ability to round up hundreds of out-of-status immigrants and deport them. Donald Trump has made one egregious mistake after another, as his approval ratings have continued to sink, and as he has managed to turn much of the country against his own party.
No one has seen much of Donald Trump in the last week, not since he gave a round of interviews marking his 100th Day, a series of interviews in which Trump sounded unhinged, confused, out of sorts, and mentally imbalanced. Those are characteristics of the worst kind of dictators, but not the characteristics of a man capable of bringing down a democracy. This man has spent the last week tooling around in his bathrobe, yelling at the television, and fuming about the Russia investigation. According to several sources, Trump has spent the last several days trying to find a reason to fire James Comey so that the Russia investigation would go away. Firing the guy leading the investigation is not how you make the investigation go away.
Donald Trump acted just as a guilty man would: He fired James Comey in haste. Most in the White House didn’t know it was coming. His staff had very little time to prepare. He had no short list to replace Comey. He wasn’t smart enough to realize the firestorm it would set off. He had no surrogates ready to defend the decision, and then he hastily sent them out without a plan. They bumbled and embarrassed themselves on television. Democrats began demanding an independent prosecutor. Republicans fretted at the timing of this. The media freaked. Anderson Cooper made a mockery of Kellyanne Conway.
Trump going to Conway in this situation is like something out of a cheesy sports movie. https://t.co/qjozXvyhZq— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) May 10, 2017
This is Donald Trump’s Saturday Night Massacre, and you’ve got 10,000 ambitious, tenacious, and angry journalists dying to become the next Woodward and Bernstein, while the state controlled Fox News has lost several of its most high-profile personalities, in part, because of other journalists, so it is weakened at a time when Trump needs it most.
Look at it this way: Donald Trump just declared war on Democracy, and our Democracy is being led by the NYTimes, The Washington Post, Jake Tapper, Katy Tur, Anderson Cooper, Kurt Eichenwald, Politico, Rachel Maddow, NPR, Jim Acosta, Jonathan Karl, Pro Publica, hundreds of websites, scores of podcasts, and thousands of people on Twitter. Donald Trump is disorganized, dumb, unskilled, and his best weapons are Sean Spicer and Kellyanne Conway.
It’s going to be a bloodbath.
Politico has already got the inside story on this, and according to their sources, Donald Trump fired James Comey for the exact reasons we all think he did: To make the Russian investigation go away.
Trump had grown angry with the Russia investigation — particularly Comey admitting in front of the Senate that the FBI was investigating his campaign — and that the FBI director wouldn’t support his claims that President Barack Obama had tapped his phones in Trump Tower.
And after the “war” was declared, here’s how Trump’s army was handling the situation:
Advisers were attacking each other for not realizing the gravity of the situation as events blew up. “How are you not defending your position for three solid hours on TV?” the White House aide said.
Two White House officials said there was little communications strategy in handling the firing, and that staffers were given talking points late Tuesday for hastily arranged media appearances. Aides soon circulated previous quotes from Schumer hitting Comey. After Schumer called for a special prosecutor, the White House huddled in press secretary Sean Spicer’s office to devise a strategy and sent “fresh faces” to TV, one White House official said.
There’s no getting around the timing of this. It came the day after Sally Yates humiliated the White House, hours after the press destroyed Sean Spicer’s reasoning for waiting 18 days to fire Michael Flynn, and on the same day that Lindsay Graham said he’d be investigating Trump’s business ties to Russia. We got hints that the FBI was already investigating those ties. It came on the same day that grand jury subpoenas were handed down in the investigation against Flynn, and on the same day that Donald Trump hired a law firm to defend his business ties to Russia. Donald Trump could not have chosen a worse time, even according to some Republican Senators.
I've spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) May 10, 2017
There’s plenty to be concerned about here, and it would be easy to fear the worst, as I did for much of the night. But as I saw news reports roll out, and Trump surrogates demolished, I was heartened by the media’s reaction. The media is very much responsible for the rise of Donald Trump, but now they’re our last line of defense. I still have faith in the institution. I saw a reporter from The Daily Caller — the Tucker Carlson founded outlet — doggedly ask Sean Spicer questions about Michael Flynn yesterday and then spend an hour on Twitter raising questions while other big-name journalists rooted her on. Donald Trump’s actions have brought the Fourth Estate together (except for those bozos at Fox News) and I have faith that they will be the wall that protects our Democracy.
By firing James Comey, Donald Trump has accomplished the exact opposite of what he had hoped to accomplish. By firing James Comey, Donald Trump has ensured that the rest of his presidency — for however long it lasts — will be defined by the Russian investigation. It will be the first topic of conversation during every press conference and the first question every Republican Congressman is asked by the media. If Donald Trump ever gives an interview to anyone outside of Fox News again — and he will, because he craves the media’s attention — it will be the major topic of questioning. If Rod J. Rosenstein doesn’t cave to pressure from Republicans and a growing number of Republicans to establish an independent investigation, this cloud will hang over Trump, prevent him from getting anything else done, and completely sour the American public on Trump and anyone who chooses to defend him.