If you’ve been conscious at any time over the last three days, you know that Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Reasons for the firing range from the petty—Trump was tired of Comey being more famous than him—to the conspiratorial—the Russians made Trump do it—to the lame—Comey had violated departmental protocols to the point where HE HAD TO GO!!
Whatever the reason, the President was well within his authority to fire Mr. Comey. There’s this little pesky phrase that applies to all presidential appointments, namely the individual “serves at the pleasure of the President.” Even though Mr. Comey was appointed to a 10 yr term by President Obama, he still “serves at the pleasure of the [sitting] President”. So, Trump fired him.
It’s not Trump’s version of The Saturday Night Massacre, nor is it the Constitutional Crisis that some celebrities and ignorant journalists are trying to gin it up to be.
Here’s a little history lesson on the Saturday Night Massacre.
In October of 1973, just as the Watergate hearings had concluded in the House of Representatives, President Nixon found himself under investigation by Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox (more on how the special prosecutor role came to be a bit later). Well, Nixon wasn’t really keen on being the subject of an investigation, especially by someone who had an “extra-Department of Justice” authority, so he ordered Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused. Nixon fired Richardson.
Nixon then asked Deputy Attorney General William Ruckleshaus to fire Cox. Nope, said Mr. Ruckleshaus, ain’t gonna do it. Ruckleshaus resigned rather than fire Cox. Finally, Nixon went to the Solicitor General, Robert Bork. Bork agreed to fire Cox, but then he resigned (Bork agreed to stay on when Richardson & Ruckleshaus both asked him to, the Department of Justice had already been through enough severe upheavals).
Another part of the Saturday Night Massacre that doesn’t get any attention is the fact that President Nixon ordered FBI agents to seize evidence that had been legally obtained by Archibald Cox’s deputies. Nixon claimed those investigators were sabotaging his administration. So, most reasonable people came to the conclusion that Nixon was really trying to circumvent the law.
In contrast, with the Trump firing of Comey, all you had was a bureaucrat who may or may not have committed some mistakes while doing his job. No evidence being seized. No 18 ½ minute gap. Just a President who didn’t like an appointee.
Kind of like when George W. Bush fired the politically appointed US attorneys in 2007. Or Trump did the same thing earlier this year. Or when Obama did it in 2009.
Not. A. Constitutional. Crisis. Not even close.
But let’s talk about that Special Prosecutor thing for a minute. The Office of the Special Prosecutor was formed after the forced resignation of then-Attorney General, John Mitchell. Mitchell had gotten in hot water by working to obstruct the investigation into Watergate. [On a side note, he served his time at the Federal Minimum Security Prison on Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL. As a 10 year old, I would often see our former Attorney General walking the track as the prison backed up to the base’s golf course, but I digress]. During the confirmation of Eliot Richardson, the Senate made a promise to allow the Special Prosecutor to finish his work undisturbed by the Nixon Administration. Meaning that the Special Prosecutor could only be fired by the AG or Deputy AG, not Nixon.
Probably the most famous Special Prosecutor who didn’t get fired was Ken Starr, the man made infamous for picking up the Whitewater investigation AFTER BILL CLINTON FIRED THE FBI DIRECTOR, WILLIAM SESSIONS. Sessions had been investigating Clinton. Clinton didn’t like it, so he fired him. However, a Special Prosecutor got appointed. A Special Prosecutor with very broad investigative powers. And we all remember how that turned out.
Blue dress, cigars, and impeachment anyone?