When Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey yesterday, the word came down from the administration that the cause of the sacking was the FBI director’s unfair hounding of Hillary Clinton. It seemed just a wee bit suspicious that Trump would suddenly decide to relieve a law enforcement official, whose work he had lavishly praised, for his alleged mistreatment of the candidate he called Crooked Hillary.
Several developments have added to the suspicions. The New York Times reports that, days before, Comey requested more resources for the Russia investigation. And Trump himself, apparently forgetting his own administration’s line that Comey was fired for his 2016 actions, told reporters this morning he fired Comey because “he wasn’t doing a good job.” So … it’s not because he mishandled the Clinton investigation any more?
Watch Trump praise Comey in 2016 for how he handled the Clinton email probe.
It is difficult to defend the Trump administration’s line when Trump himself cannot seem to keep it straight. Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk-show host, Washington Post columnist, prospective MSNBC host, and state-of-the-art conservative-Establishment Trump mouthpiece, makes his best effort to explain the rightness of the president’s actions. In his Post column, Hewitt argues that Comey could have — nay, must have — been fired for his decision, last July, to scold Clinton for her careless email server management. “Comey was wrong in July, wrong in subsequent statements, wrong as recently as last week and refused to admit error,” Hewitt writes, concluding that “the overwrought media has toppled into hysteria again” in its insinuation that Trump may have acted out of any other motive.
Hewitt’s case elides several inconvenient details, and not just the ones that have come out since it was published. There is the timing of the firing, which came long after the alleged offense, but right in the middle of an investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia; reports from sources from within the administration that Trump was enraged at the FBI over the continued investigation; reports that Roger Stone, a target of the investigation, encouraged Trump to fire Comey; Trump’s previous decisions to fire two other law enforcement officials investigating him and his allies; the fact that the firing was ordered by Jeff Sessions, who has lied to Congress about his own ties to Russia and was forced to recuse himself from the investigation; and reports that Sessions looked for reasons to fire Comey after the decision was made to fire him.
Hewitt likewise ignores his own position. In the immediate wake of Comey’s statement about Clinton last July, Hewitt praised the FBI director as a paragon of virtue, a man “widely admired by everyone in [sic] both sides of the aisle,” and whose condemnation of Clinton was “absolutely damning” of her. Now Hewitt believes that very statement by this widely admired official has suddenly, ten months later, become an open-and-shut retroactive firing offense.
The most effective Trump defenses are the simplest ones. Senator Chuck Grassley, asked on Fox News about the Watergate-esque character of the Comey firing, replied, in toto, “Suck it up and move on.” Now that is a defense that can’t be cracked. It contains no complex chain of reasoning, no reliance on positions by Trump or others that are subject to change, no vulnerability to news developments that could render it moot. Conservatives who wish to remain lashed to the Trump presidency should take heed of Grassley’s example. Attempts to use complex reasoning will backfire. “Suck it up and move on” is the moral philosophy of the Trump era.
Update: Since yesterday, essentially every major news publication has reported that Comey’s firing was driven by Trump’s distrust over the FBI Director’s loyalty in general and support for the Russia investigation in particular. The Washington Post reports that Rod Rosenstein, author of the memo used to justify Comey’s firing, threatened to resign out of anger that the administration “cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation.”
All this makes Hewitt’s attempt to regurgitate the original, now-discarded Trump line that Rosenstein drove the entire process – “The story is a straight-line one, and it’s about Rosenstein” – not just obviously wrong but now absurdly so. Having been forced to reverse himself in service of the party line, Hewitt now finds himself abandoned by the party he is serving. Amazingly, Hewitt continues to cling to his position on Twitter:
Second update: Trump confesses in a new interview that he was going to fire Comey regardless of what Rosenstein wrote: “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation.” This would seem to make Hewitt’s contention – “The story is a straight-line one, and it’s about Rosenstein” – fairly untenable. But no! Hewitt is still defending his position: