May 11, 2017

Is there a Nixonian conspiracy behind Comey's firing?

In case you haven't been in the United States for the past 48 hours, FBI Director James Comey has been fired by President Trump, Tuesday afternoon.

So, was their some conspiracy behind this, similar to Richard Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre?

CNN, and others I am sure, offer up the Sally Yates and Preet Bhahara firings as proof for some Watergate-type nefariousness. And now, the neo-centrist James Fallows of The Atlantic drinks the Kool-Aid of "Putin Did It."

Likely not, in my book.

(But, there is new interesting stuff, namely that Trump wanted Comey to be his consigliere, and put on the ask just a week after inauguration. Read here.)

Yates, like all deputy attorneys general, is a political and not a civil service hire. Yes, Trump changed his mind on having her continue to help with the transition. No guarantees that was related to the Michael Flynn investigation. Besides, Trump jettisoned him soon thereafter, or was prodded to do so. She does appear to have been fired over Trump's travel ban. But, that's different.

Like other U.S. district attorneys, Bhahara is also a political hire. Yes, he was investigating Trump Tower, so that may have been a cause. However, that too had nothing to do with Russkies or alleged Russkies. And, Trump's narrative that he was spied on by Obama has been rejected by many others. So, no conspiracy there.

So, while friend Brains has a good wrap overall, I have to reject the "this is all about Russia" line, at least Russia of today. Sorry, but I'll stick with the likes of Mark Ames and Yasha Levine on not yelling "Russia" every time I enter into a crowded Trump theater, absent better evidence. 
Yeah, Trump the family may have gotten money from Russia, per his doofus son. Or it may not have. This may just be more Trump family lying. And, if at least halfway true, the Trump family is getting money from China as we speak. So, should we rather think of some conspiratorial way Chinese President Xi Jinping is behind this? You go down that road if you want instead of the Vlad the Impaler one. I'll stay at home and per Robert Frost, keep both such roads less traveled in my itinerary.

Brains himself doesn't think Russia actually hacked the election. He knows that's not possible. We're in agreement on that.

Scarier, though is that Democratic Senator Ed Markey probably thinks all of the above and more are indeed true. Reading the likes of Louise Mensch and the Palmer Report will do that.

Without this being about Russia, or Russian issues, the firing has a mix of schadenfreude and MAGA-grade bullshit. The two combine, as shown in the firing letter by Trump based on the firing recommendation letters of AG Jeff Sessions and Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. They claim, Rosenstein especially, that he's being fired because he mishandled Hillary's emails, notably overriding AG Loretta Lynch, and that they thus have no confidence in him. More about Rod Rosenstein here

As for Comey's overstatement about how many Huma Abedin emails had gotten to Anthony Weiner's magic smartphone? I'm going to call bullshit misrepresentation on the MSM. And, I'm still betting dollars to doughnuts that Rosenstein was Pro Publica's "law enforcement" leaker.

"Two email chains" is not the same as "two emails." I'm still sure it's not "thousands" of emails in those chains, but ... could be two dozen? That's still more than two.

There's also not a constitutional crisis, certainly not a Watergate-level one. That's the semi-consensus of a group of a dozen or more legal scholars scanning the bipartisan spectrum, per Politico. And I agree. If there is a "crisis," it will be if Trump appoints a total hack as Comey's replacement, especially, to riff on Watergate, if that successor is then, like L. Patrick Gray, left to "twist slowly in the wind."

That said, per my snark of last week about Comey's secret revelations to the Senate. If there's one thing I love as much as the smell of schadenfreude in the morning, it's the sound of petards hoisting. If it's true that Trump had been wanting to shit-can Comey for a week, Comey gave him an easy opening. His misstatement made it look like he had a vendetta.

Otherwise, Trump has said he wants the FBI to continue the investigation. First, he'd be dumb even by Trump standards not to say that for public consumption. Second, in line with my comments several paragraphs up, as far as Vlad the Impaler actually colluding with Team Trump on election malfeasance, I still think that's a nothingburger with a high degree of confidence in that stance.

On the other hand, if Trump wants to dump gasoline on the fires of "Putin did it" conspiracy theorists, he continues to do a good job by excluding US media from his meeting with Russian officials.

On the third hand, the American MSM is playing a bullshit gotcha game with that. So what if Russian media was in there? I'm sure every Russian media outlet in the meeting was there precisely because it is a Putin tool.

Yes, we're learning more about how many previously undisclosed contacts Flynn, or other Trump surrogates, had with Kislyak or other Russians. Again, though, none of them illegal. And, really, other than the non-disclosure, none unethical. And, Counterpunch is probably right in that the national security establishment is working hand-in-hand with the mainstream media (whose leakers about Trump's Israeli intell leaking may be worse than Trump's original leaking) to make this nothingburger into a Big Mac.

Oh, presidents in general use unofficial backchannels. The issues are:
A. To what ends?
B. How skillfully are they used?

Unfortunately, Trump's idea of undercutting the national security establishment, while laudable in some ways, was undercut by both his general incompetence and his refusal to look at actual intelligence evaluations, even if he took a different line on them than the nat-sec eggs.

Sidebar: I don't care how long he's been in DOJ under how many bipartisan administrations, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein does have a credibility crisis. No, per Watergate, he has a credibility gap — one of his own making, by authoring the "here's your reasons, Mr. President" letter.

Unless he immediately states that the president kept him in the dark on some issues, the idea that the NYT editorial board can appeal to alleged past credibility is a laugher. If he really were going to be an Elliot Richardson or William Ruckelshaus, he never would have written that letter in the first place.

Update: Rod Rosenstein's appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller to be special prosecutor in this case is reassuring as far as Rosenstein's ethics, and surely reassuring to the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. A good thing? That's another issue.

At the same time, as Jeff St. Clair notes, James Comey is ultimately a figure deserving of little sympathy.

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