It’s the day after the day of the James Comey firing. A lot happened in the first 24 hours after President Trump ousted the FBI chief, and a lot more has happened since.
The Senate subpoenaed Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser. The deputy attorney general threatened to quit because Trump has made him the scapegoat for the firing. And, most damningly, the White House narrative of why Comey was fired fell apart and was replaced by what we all suspected: The ouster had nothing to with the Clinton email saga and everything to do with the growing probes into Trump’s Russia ties.
If there’s one major takeaway from all of these developments, it’s that the Comey ouster is adding new fuel to the investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to swing the election.
Oh, and one more thing: The FBI is really, really pissed.
Here’s a quick guide to what’s been going on.
The Senate issued a subpoena to Michael Flynn
Things are moving fast for Michael Flynn, and not in the way he’d like. A day after his business associates received subpoenas from a grand jury, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued one for Flynn himself.
This is the first subpoena issued by the panel as part of its Russia investigation. The commission’s chair, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, has publicly said that he hoped it wouldn’t come to this.
Based on his tweet, the Comey firing seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back.
My statement on the dismissal of FBI Director Comey https://t.co/ovoe34xajZ pic.twitter.com/1hB0QveczE— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) May 9, 2017
The subpoena comes on the heels of the committee’s request that the Treasury Department take a closer look at the finances of Flynn and other Trump associates.
Recall that Flynn asked the committee for immunity in return for his compliance with the investigation. The panel rejected that request, and so the subpoena now requires Flynn to hand documents over to investigators.
“Everything has been voluntary up to this point, and we’ve interviewed a lot of people, and I want to continue to do it in a voluntary fashion,” Burr told the Washington Post.
“But if in fact the production of things that we need are not provided, then we have a host of tools,” he continued.
The subpoena, clearly, is one of those tools.
It’s worth noting that nothing nefarious has been uncovered yet. Subpoenas are standard parts of an investigation. But it is still astonishing that the president’s former top national security staffer — one of Washington’s most powerful people — is at the center of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation.
Amid all the continuing Comey fallout, keep your eye on this.
Comey was fired because he wouldn’t drop the Trump-Russia probe
It didn’t take long for the official White House explanation of Comey’s firing — that Trump was angry at the director’s handling of the Clinton email saga — to collapse.
Instead, Trump seems to have made history and fired a serving FBI chief for just the second time in the bureau’s history for a pair of other reasons. First, Comey would not give his unyielding loyalty to Trump. Second, Comey was ramping up the Russia investigation, not doing what Trump wanted and shutting it down.
Let’s take each in turn.
Trump is a loyalty guy. If you stick by him, he sticks by you. He’s a quid pro quo kind of guy. That Comey would not do what Trump wanted meant that Trump would have no reservations about making Comey look bad. (Look at the reverse example: Despite widespread calls for his ouster, Trump has for the moment refused to fire one of his most controversial aides, Sebastian Gorka, because Gorka happily defends the president on cable news.)
To Trump, the biggest sin was that Comey would not confirm Trump’s baseless claim that the Obama administration wiretapped him during the campaign. Comey flat out rejected Trump’s assertion in open testimony at the House Intelligence Committee. And so Trump moved to fire him last weekend.
Let’s pause for a moment to discuss why the timeline is important. The original White House narrative was that on May 9, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended that Trump fire Comey. Trump, listening to his top legal aides, accepted the recommendation.
But that can’t be true if Trump made up his mind last weekend. After making his decision and speaking with his senior staff, we now know that Trump asked Sessions and Rosenstein to write up reasons to fire Comey.
So here’s the recap: Trump makes the decision to fire Comey. Trump asks his top legal leaders to make a case against Comey. They dutifully cough up a hastily written and widely criticized memo making the preposterous argument that a president who led crowds in chants of “lock her up” believed Comey was too harsh on Clinton. The president then accepts the recommendation he asked them to make.
In another important twist, the Washington Post reported that Rosenstein threatened to quit after the White House tried to pin Comey’s dismissal on him (and Sessions).
That’s also deeply problematic. Sessions famously recused himself from the Russia investigation, but he was still allowed to fire the guy helping lead the probe.
Muddying the waters even further, Trump told reporters yesterday that Comey was let go because “he wasn’t doing a good job.” Even if that were true, it’s a different rationale than botching the Clinton investigation, regardless of what Sessions and Rosenstein may have recommended.
In the end, Trump wanted Comey gone, and the president got his wish. Loyalty has its privileges in this administration. Being perceived as disloyal is a fireable offense.
And so, it appears, is being unwilling to close down one of the most politically explosive investigations in recent American history.
Comey ramped up the Trump-Russia investigation just before he got fired
In his last few weeks as FBI director, Comey began devoting more of his time — and more of the bureau’s resources — to the Russia investigation.
The Wall Street Journal reports that as of three weeks ago, Comey upped the tempo from needing weekly briefings to daily briefings. He “was concerned by information showing possible evidence of collusion,” according to unnamed sources in the report.
Comey also seems to have felt he needed more resources to sort out exactly what it was, and who, if anyone, in the Trump circle could be prosecuted. As if in a Shakespearean tragedy, the person Comey turned to with his request for more manpower was — wait for it — Rosenstein. You know, the one who then helped fire the FBI chief just days later.
Democrats — and some Republicans — were quick to point out that just as the Russia probe heated up, Trump tried to cool it down by getting rid of the guy in charge.
“I’m told that as soon as Rosenstein arrived, there was a request for additional resources for the investigation, and that a few days afterward, he was sacked,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) told the New York Times.
“I think the Comey operation was breathing down the neck of the Trump campaign and their operatives, and this was an effort to slow down the investigation,” Durbin added.
Trump also fumed at the amount of airtime Comey got without defending the president or discussing other issues Trump cared about. Trump thought there was other malfeasance Comey should investigate, like the nonexistent wiretapping or the amount of leaks out of the administration to the press.
More importantly, he was very unhappy that Comey prominently and publicly contradicted him on the wiretapping issue and said that a criminal probe was underway against the administration.
Speaking of which, the number of leaks coming out since the Comey ouster has been overwhelming. The Washington Post’s story got 30 officials as sources. Maybe it’s because, as one of the officials told the paper, Trump “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI.”
Perhaps we’re seeing the opening salvos of a White House–FBI battle over the narrative of the Comey firing. Which if you’re Trump and want Russia out of the news is not a good thing.
This kerfuffle has the potential to get even more intense. According to the Wall Street Journal, “some investigators are persuaded that the evidence will show more than just casual contacts” with Russians. If this starts to come out early, the damage already done to this administration could get even more devastating.
It has been a historic, unrelenting past 48 hours. There’s no reason to believe the next hours won’t produce something equally amazing too.