President Donald Trump fired Federal Bureau of Investigations director James Comey on Tuesday, saying he “wasn’t doing a good job” and is unable to adequately lead the Bureau.
Public and private figures, including officials from local political groups, have been disagreeing over whether this decision was smart, necessary or even constitutional.
Trump said he lost confidence in Comey. He cited Comey’s misstatements during the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to handle classified information, and his decision to have a news conference without letting superiors know.
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission,” Trump said in his letter to Comey.
Comey, who was overseeing an investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and specifically its ties to the Trump campaign, had asked for more funding and resources for his inquiries just days before he was dismissed.
He learned about his termination through television news reports. As of right now, former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe is acting FBI director.
The Trump administration has repeatedly said the dismissal is unrelated to the Russian interference probes.
“The decision surrounding Comey seems bizarre, given the extent that Trump had been praising Comey for what he had done investigating Clinton,” School of Public and Environmental Affairs professor A. James Barnes said.
Barnes was assistant to the deputy attorney general during the Saturday Night Massacre, President Richard Nixon’s controversial order to dismiss special prosecutor Archibald Cox during the Watergate wiretapping scandal investigations. This event led to the resignations of the attorney and deputy attorneys general.
Many political analysts and onlookers have noted the similarities between the actions of Nixon and Trump.
Critics from the left and right said the firing was brash and a challenge for the credibility of a critical ongoing investigation.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, among other politicians, is calling for an independent congressional committee to continue the investigation of Trump’s relationship with the possible Russian interference in the United States election.
Barnes was there when Nixon’s Watergate scandal unfurled, and he said the parallels are interesting.
“The rest of the country was in shock,” Barnes said. “I saw what was likely to happen. It seemed Nixon was trying to thwart an investigation against him.”
Barnes said his instincts are Trump was getting nervous about how closely the Russian election interference investigation was zeroing in on him. He also said the decision to take advice from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recommended Comey’s termination, is disputable.
“Taking a recommendation to fire the person heading an investigation about you from someone who recused themselves from the subject is a very suspicious action,” Barnes said.
However, not all political figures disagreed with Trump’s actions regarding Comey. Many national and local figures said it couldn’t have happened soon enough.
“The Russian interference shows irresponsibility from both sides,” said William Ellis, chair of the Monroe County Republicans. “If Hillary Clinton was president and fired Comey, I would still be okay with it.”
Ellis said he took issue with how Comey has dealt with several cases in his nearly four years as FBI director.
This includes his investigation and eventual decision not to charge Clinton for her use of a private email server, and his refusal to let go of the “Russian hacking” probes, many of which are overblown or baseless, Ellis said.
“He’s pushing back to the Russians,” Ellis said of Trump. “Donald Trump’s not gonna be soft to the Russians.”
Ellis said he had no problem with the use of a special prosecutor to see who hacked the Democratic National Committee during the election, but that officials should be nonpartisan.
Mark Fraley, chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party, agreed that an independent investigation should take place to address the entire situation, but was much harsher on the administration’s recent actions.
“This is a disgrace and has become something far too typical in the White House,” Fraley said. “This is clearly an administration that does not adhere to the norms of decency that other administrations are expected to adhere to.”
Despite this, Ellis said these committees must put just as much effort toward finding out who ordered former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s private information to go public.
Flynn resigned 24 days after being appointed by Trump, when reports surfaced detailing his undisclosed contacts with Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the U.S. He initially denied having a conversation with Kislyak, misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials.
“If we have anyone using the political apparatus against our own people, it needs to be investigated,” Ellis said. “This is about what is best for the country. If there is direct collusion between people under Trump or anyone at all, the people involved should resign.”