A former FBI agent weighs in
Early in my career as a counterintelligence officer at the FBI, I was taught that with any event, you have to ask yourself what just happened, what the antecedent facts were, and what happened afterward. The firing of now-former FBI Director James Comey prompts such an analysis.
President Trump, just like President Truman, can fire anyone who works for him within the executive branch, including the FBI, Department of Justice, and the military. The question is the wisdom and necessity behind it. In the case of Truman in 1951, General Douglas MacArthur had demonstrated a recklessness of command that crossed into insubordination. That is not the case here. Whatever mistake Comey may have made in dealing with the Hillary Clinton email scandal, they were just that: mistakes. They certainly did not border on insubordination, criminality, or even ethical violations. If they had, Congress would have already had a field day. He made a tough decision under tough circumstances that none of us will ever encounter, and he testified last week that he would do it again. So why fire him?
Comey is a threat to President Trump. It’s that simple. He is a threat because he does not—unlike so many senators and congressmen and newly appointed agency heads—curtsy to the president, nor should he. Comey, like all FBI agents and line attorneys from Justice I served with, swears his allegiance to the constitution of the United States—not to a political party, and certainly not to a potentate.
If President Trump thought this would somehow derail the FBI’s investigation, he is wrong. If some of his friends—former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani or former New York FBI chief James Kallstrom—whispered in his ear this would be wise, they have misjudged.
Comey’s firing will temporarily demoralize the men and women of the FBI who are conducting both criminal and counter-intelligence investigations, to be sure, but they will not be deterred. What the president will be surprised to see is renewed vigor into the investigation. We already know that Flynn hid information about his connections and payments from the Russians, and now we must know why. What other contacts took place and for what purpose? The FBI, as well as Congress, has a role here to find the facts—not keep the president insulated.
Congress seems to be deliberately and callously ignoring the elephant in the room: Russia, under Vladimir Putin, is exercising active measures against the West, and principally against the United States. This is a form of war by other means. Twenty years ago, a more courageous Congress would have demanded that we recall our ambassador and would have instituted hearings to determine the extent of Russian meddling in the election. Now, it seems that it’s more important to make the matter go away rather than to find out what the Russians are up to.
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We are not dealing with the nation of Trinidad and Tobago here. We are dealing with Russia, a country led by a former KGB colonel who was nurtured in the Soviet Union incubator—a toxic empire that killed over 30 million of its own people, created gulags, crushed dissent, and sanctioned the assassination of a pope. Putin and his cronies were promoted for their psychopathic-level exploits as career KGB intelligence officers, not for being champions of democracy. Let me be clear: Putin rose to where he is by treachery and mendacity—by being more anti-social and more authoritarian than everyone else. That is who leads Russia, and that is the person sending envoys out to meet with President Trump and his employees, both covertly and overtly.
Anyone who seeks to grow close to that regime needs to be examined, if not for malfeasance then for naiveté—two things we cannot afford. The FBI will survive the firing of Comey. But Congress, too, needs to look at itself and ask, “Have we fulfilled our obligation to get to the truth, just as FBI agents will, no matter who leads them?” Or will they follow sycophantically behind their political bosses, and in doing so, let Americans down?
Joe Navarro is a former FBI special agent and is the author of Three Minutes to Doomsday; An FBI Agent, A Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History (Scribner).