After FBI Director James Comey was fired without warning by President Donald Trump on Tuesday, he wrote a note to his former colleagues and underlings telling them not to “spend time” getting mad about “the decision or the way it was executed.”
It doesn’t look like they’re taking his advice.
Comey’s farewell letter to the agency, published by CNN on Wednesday and posted on DocumentCloud by the New York Times, urges agents to remain professional in the midst of “times of turbulence.”
“It is very hard,” the letter says, “to leave a group of people who are committed only to doing the right thing.”
With only a passing reference to “the decision” and the controversy around it, most of the letter could have been written by a well-respected senior official retiring after a distinguished career. But the reality of Comey’s firing — that he was sacked while on a recruiting trip to California; that he saw a television screen blare the news of his firing while he was giving a speech; that he laughed at first because he thought it was a “fairly funny” joke — gives the letter an undertone of urgency, drawing an implicit contrast between being “committed only to doing the right thing” and allowing political considerations to get in the way of law enforcement.
Critics of the administration, as well as several reports from anonymous White House sources, believe President Trump fired Comey because of the ongoing FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Russian government.
The Trump administration denies this, but its alternative explanation for the dismissal has varied — from Comey’s treatment of the 2016 investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server (the reason presented in a memo sent to press Tuesday when the firing was announced) to the idea that Comey had, as deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday, “lost the confidence” of the FBI “rank and file.”
The latter is pretty clearly not true. If anything, stories over the past few days have shown that firing Comey has damaged FBI morale. As Matt Apuzzo reported for the New York Times on Wednesday:
One senior F.B.I. official said that the president had severely damaged his standing among agents, many of whom are conservative and supported Mr. Trump as a candidate. Agents were angered by the way Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, who learned of his dismissal from television reports while he was in Los Angeles. They called it disrespectful.
Despite Comey’s exhortations in his farewell letter not to “spend time” thinking about the firing, at least some of his agents appear to see it as a threat to the integrity Comey praised — a threat to the bureau’s reputation (as Comey put it) as “a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.” At least some of them have interpreted it as a direct attack from the White House itself. And according to an article Wednesday in the Washington Post, some FBI officials are prepared to get aggressive with the president in defending Comey’s legacy and their own:
Comey’s firing and the subsequent comments from the White House are attacks that won’t soon be forgotten. Trump had “essentially declared war on a lot of people at the FBI,” one official said. “I think there will be a concerted effort to respond over time in kind.”
Read the full farewell letter above, or on DocumentCloud.