Washington, D.C. is still reeling from this week’s news that FBI Director James Comey was fired—and piecing together the events that led to his abrupt ousting by President Donald Trump. The announcement came during a contentious time, as Comey was leading an investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia during the 2016 election.
But why is Comey’s firing today’s biggest headline? There’s a few important reasons:
1. Comey had angered President Trump over the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.
According to The New York Times, Comey had asked for more resources to run the investigation, including additional prosecutors. Trump turned down Comey’s request days before his firing, suggesting that the investigation may have been accelerating too quickly for Trump’s liking.
In his opening remarks for a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Senator Mark Warner said that “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the President’s decision to remove Director Comey was related to this investigation,” NBC News reports. Was Comey on the path to proving that Trump had illegal contact with Russia? A tally of lawmakers' responses to Comey's firing, gathered by The New York Times, suggests that many Democrats (and a few Republicans) think so.
2. The timing is suspicious.
Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week regarding Hillary Clinton’s private email server—and, according to The Hill, he didn’t grant Trump’s request to preview his remarks beforehand. Additionally, CNN reports that Comey is the third person to be fired while investigating Trump. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said recently that Comey’s firing is part of a “deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration” where officials are removed from their posts simply for doing their jobs.
2. The White House can’t get their story straight.
Different accounts of why exactly Trump fired Comey surfaced today. The Times reported that, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt today, Trump said that he “was going to fire [Comey] regardless of recommendation.” However, CNN added that Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that a memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined Trump’s decision. White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee tried to fuse these statements by saying that Rosenstein’s memo was “the final straw” in firing Comey—but didn’t explain why the President and Vice President’s accounts differed.
While various members of Trump’s administration can’t agree on what, exactly, happened, it’s harder to distinguish real facts from the alternative ones.
4. Some pundits say that Trump could be impeached if further investigation reveals that Comey’s firing was indeed a cover-up.
In an interview with Vox, Harvard Law School Professor Mark Tushnet argued that it’s “absolutely fair” to put impeachment on the table for potential interference in the FBI’s investigation—if evidence of obstruction of justice surfaces. Firing Comey wasn’t breaking the law, but hiring a replacement with strong partisan affiliations or refusing to hire an independent prosecutor for the case would be an overreach of the president’s power. And if the president violates the law, it’s constitutional for impeachment to follow.
So, could Comey’s firing lead to what some are calling Trump’s “Watergate” moment? We’ll have to wait and see.