On Being Fired-Part I-The Comey Hearing

On Being Fired-Part I-The Comey Hearing


Leonard Zwelling

I have been fired—several times. It always feels awful, but is often for the best. I have found that in each instance of being fired, understanding why was critically important. It lessened the likelihood that I would make a similar error in the future and often validated for me that the course I had taken that resulted in my dismissal was still the right one even though the consequences were disastrous.

On Thursday, former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his story that led him from a powerful law enforcement official to someone who is “between opportunities.” He was fired by President Trump.

When Mr. Comey was asked why he was fired, he couldn’t be sure. He served at the pleasure of the president and no reason for his dismissal is needed. But in comments to Lester Holt. Mr. Trump made it clear that it was something about the manner in which the FBI Director was conducting the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Russians and members of the Trump election team that caused Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey. Mr. Comey also assumed this as the reason for his firing from Trump tweets.

In addition, on Wednesday, Mr. Comey made his prepared testimony to the committee available to news outlets. He described several private meetings with the president that may well have been inappropriate contact for a chief executive. Regardless, though Mr. Comey documented the discussions, he did not make anyone aware until he leaked his prepared memos to the media through a third party that he was concerned about the comportment of the President of the United States with regard to an on-going FBI investigation. He said that perhaps he should have been stronger. Personally, I think he was pretty strong and very cautious after the dilemma he created surrounding the Hillary Clinton email investigation where first he cleared her, then he didn’t, then he did. Obviously, he didn’t want to do that again with the Russia case.

Later on Thursday, the committee went into closed-door session with the former Director. It is unlikely that the public will know much about what was said, but from the morning testimony, it sounded like Mr. Comey had much more to say about the behavior of those around the president and their dealings with representatives of the Russian government.

Where are we now?

Senator Harris of California drew an apt analogy when she said that when a robber holds a gun to your head and “hopes” you will give him your wallet, that’s a directive. Was the same true for Mr. Trump when he emptied the Oval Office of all of his aides and the Attorney General and twisted Mr. Comey’s arm to drop his investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? It looks like it will be up to Special Prosecutor Mueller to sort through all of these issues of who said what to whom, when and why.

But it is very difficult to draw any conclusion other than the fact that Mr. Comey was fired because he was getting too close to the president or his associates with regard to their interactions with the Russians and that Mr. Comey made it clear that his loyalty to the Constitution exceeded that which he was willing to give to the president.

In addition, on Thursday, Mr. Comey called the president a liar with regard to who invited whom to dinner and what the status of the FBI was as a functioning agency of government at the time of Mr. Comey’s firing. Mr. Comey took great personal offense at the Trump characterization of the FBI as dysfunctional and poorly led.

In the weeks and months to come, it is likely that we will learn who said what to whom and when and there will be some assessment of motivations, but one thing is clear.

Mr. Comey felt intimidated by the president. Mr. Comey did not rise to the occasion and report his misgivings to higher authorities like the Attorney General or, because he was recused from this investigation, the Assistant Attorney General. Mr. Comey himself leaked his own memo to the press in an effort to stimulate the need for a Special Prosecutor. That seems to have worked.

It is likely that the Congress will continue its investigations of Russian interference in our election and whether or not members of the Trump team overstepped their authority in dealing with the Russians—perhaps even before taking office.

Jim Comey was fired. He can only suppose to know why. I have been there. But every time I was fired, over time, I figured out why. I suspect he will, too. Whether in firing Mr. Comey or in any of the conduct around the former FBI Director the president committed a crime will be determined by the Special Prosecutor. What will be done about it will be in the hands of Congress.

Mr. Trump cannot be indicted—yet. First he needs to be impeached by the House and convicted by the Senate. Both of these are far-fetched. But as of Thursday, they are no longer impossible. Anyone can be fired from any job—even the presidency.

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