Comey firing coverage shows right-wing media has lost its grip on reality

Fake news purveyors joined conservatives in lauding Comey's firing

Published May 15, 2017 10:30AM (EDT)

James Comey   (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
James Comey (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

This post originally appeared on Media Matters.

New York Times: “F.B.I. Director James Comey Is Fired By Trump.” On May 9th, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey following the recommendations of his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein citing Comey’s July 5, 2016 announcement that he would end the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails without prosecuting anyone involved as the reasons for the degradation of trust between the FBI and the public.

President Trump on Tuesday fired the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, abruptly terminating the top official leading a criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s advisers colluded with the Russian government to steer the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The stunning development in Mr. Trump’s presidency raised the specter of political interference by a sitting president into an existing investigation by the nation’s leading law enforcement agency. It immediately ignited Democratic calls for a special counsel to lead the Russia inquiry.

Mr. Trump explained the firing by citing Mr. Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, even though the president was widely seen to have benefited politically from that inquiry and had once praised Mr. Comey for his “guts” in his pursuit of Mrs. Clinton during the campaign.

But in his letter to Mr. Comey, released to reporters by the White House, the president betrayed his focus on the continuing inquiry into Russia and his aides.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Mr. Trump said in a letter to Mr. Comey dated Tuesday. White House officials refused to say anything more about the three occasions Mr. Trump cited. [The New York Times, 5/9/17]

Media Points Out Egregious Abuse of Power

CNN's Jeffrey Toobin: Trump's Firing Of FBI Director Comey Is "A Grotesque Abuse Of Power." CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called President Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey “a grotesque abuse of power” and compared the incident to President Nixon’s 1973 firing of Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor.

Wolf Blitzer (Host): Jeffrey, this is an extraordinary moment in American history.

Jeffrey Toobin: You bet it is, Wolf. And it's a grotesque abuse of power by the president of the United States. This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies. That when there is a investigation that reaches near the president of the United States, or the leader of a non-democracy, they fire the people who are in charge of the investigation. I have not seen anything like this since October 20, 1973, when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor. This is something that is not within the American political tradition. That firing led indirectly but certainly to the resignation of President Nixon. And this is very much in this tradition. This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is something that is completely outside how American law is supposed to work. [CNN, "Situation Room" , 5/9/17]

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin: “The White House Position On This . . . Is A Lie. It Is Not Possibly True.” On CNN’s "Erin Burnett OutFront", senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said the White House “wanted to fire him now when he is investigating the White House. I mean, sometimes the most obvious explanation is the correct one”:

Jeff Zeleny: Erin, the timeline is so important in this. And a top White House official explained to me just a short time ago and they are pointed to exactly April 26. That is when the Deputy Attorney General, who we've been talking about all evening here, he was a former prosecutor in the Obama administration. Was appointed as the Deputy Attorney General in the Trump administration. Confirmed widely by a vote l believe, of 94 to 6. When he took office, some 14 days ago, the White House says, he saw that there was a lack of confidence in the FBI. The FBI director reports to the Deputy Attorney General. So at that point, the Deputy Attorney General started looking into this and reported his findings back to the White House just today. That's what the White House is trying to frame this. That's how they're trying to frame this.

[. . .]

Toobin: Jeff Zeleny, I think exactly characterizes the White House position on this, and that position is a lie. It is not possibly true. Rod Rosenstein did not decide to fire Jim Comey on his own.

ERIN BURNETT (HOST): Just to be clear, that is the Deputy Attorney General for those who do not know.

Toobin: He did not come into office and discover that Jim Comey had lost the confidence of the FBI. By the way, there is an Inspector General investigation of Jim Comey's behavior during 2016 underway now. It's not over. So why didn't they wait until the end of the Inspector General's investigation? They didn't wait because they wanted to fire him now, when he is investigating the White House. I mean sometimes the most obvious explanation is the correct one. [CNN, "OutFront", 5/9/17]

Ari Melber: Former FBI Official Described Comey’s Firing As “Insane,” Questioned If It Is “Obstruction.” On "For The Record With Greta Van Susteren", MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber said a “non-partisan former FBI official” described Comey’s firing “as quote, ‘insane’ and questioned whether it could amount to, quote, ‘obstruction.’”

Melber: I've just heard from a former FBI official, who in fairness I would describe as loyal to Jim Comey, to be clear to our viewers —

Brian Williams (Guest Host): As many are.

Melber: As many are. But this former official, who is a nonpartisan former FBI official, described this as shocking, as, quote, "insane," and questioned whether it could amount to, quote, "obstruction." Again, an idea coming anonymously from a former FBI official that because of the ongoing and unusual criminal inquiry it is problematic to do this removal.

Having said that, I would echo what is in Rosenstein's letter, there was bipartisan law enforcement experts who felt that Jim Comey departed from these rules. But again, the timing I think will be a key question. Why are you fired now for everything that is old?

There wasn't a lot of new information in the letter, there was not a lot of new material, and contrast that to the dealings as you mentioned, with General Flynn where new information came in, and he was not immediately dealt with. The timing could be a key clue to all this. [MSNBC, "For The Record", 5/9/17]

Even Fox News’ Charles Krauthammer Calls White House Explanation For Comey’s Firing “Something That Is Highly Implausible.” On "Special Report with Bret Baier", Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer called Comey’s firing “amazing” and “inexplicable,” and called the Trump White House’s explanation for the move as “implausible conjecture.”

Bret Baier (Host): Charles, this is pretty amazing as it develops. I don't think we have the full context yet.

Charles Krauthhammer: It's so amazing that I think we are only at the very beginning of the story. Here is what is so odd about it. This is about according to the letter by the Deputy Attorney General, this is about something that occurred on July 5. This, so we start out with something that is highly implausible. If that was so offensive to the Trump administration, What you would have done, in the transition, you would have spoken with Comey and said we are going to let you go. That's when a president could very easily make a decision to have a change. That's not unprecedented. But to fire him summarily with no warning in the middle of May because of something that happened in July is almost inexplicable. Second, the reason ostensibly is, as you read in the letter, for doing something that you are not supposed to do, to usurp the Attorney General. Second, to release all the information which was damaging to Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump's opponent. Do we really believe that Donald Trump come after all these months, decided suddenly he had to fire this guy because he damaged Hillary back in July? Another implausible conjecture. We are left to believe that it might have something to do with the egregious mistake that Comey made in the testimony this week. [Fox News, "Special Report with Bret Baier", 5/9/17]

Preet Bharara: “EVERYONE Who Cares About Independence & Rule Of Law In America Should Be “Troubled By The Timing And Reasoning” Of Comey Firing. Period.”

Lawfare: “The Firing Of James Comey . . . Is A Profoundly Dangerous Thing.” Lawfare warned that Trump’s firing of Comey “puts the Trump-Russia investigation in immediate jeopardy and removes from the investigative hierarchy the one senior official whom President Trump did not appoint and one who is known to stand up to power.” The piece went on to explain that “the FBI Director serves a ten-year term precisely in order to insulate against the whims of a President who does not like what—or whom—the FBI is investigating,” writing that the move “violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI.” From the May 9 Lawfare piece:

Make no mistake: The firing of James Comey as FBI director is a stunning event. It is a profoundly dangerous thing—a move that puts the Trump-Russia investigation in immediate jeopardy and removes from the investigative hierarchy the one senior official whom President Trump did not appoint and one who is known to stand up to power. One of the biggest dangers of Comey’s firing is that Trump might actually get away with it, ironically, because of Comey’s unpopularity among Democrats and on the political left.

We warned about this danger immediately after the election.

On November 10, we wrote that that Trump’s firing of Comey would be a “a clear bellwether to both the national security and civil libertarian communities that things are going terribly wrong.” At the time we wrote those words, Comey was deeply unpopular with both the Left, which blamed Hillary Clinton’s defeat on his eleventh hour letter to Congress, and the Right, which criticized his decision to recommend that Clinton not be charged over her handling of government emails. Whatever the merit of Comey’s actions during the campaign, the fact that he managed to anger both sides of the political spectrum demonstrated his storied political independence. And that political independence, we argued, would serve as a critical check against any efforts on the part of President Trump to trample the rule of law.

The FBI Director serves a ten-year term precisely in order to insulate against the whims of a President who does not like what — or whom — the FBI is investigating. While the President has legal authority to fire an FBI director, the fact that Trump has done so under circumstances of an active FBI investigation of the President’s own campaign violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI. The situation has no parallel with the only previous FBI director to be removed by a president: President Clinton’s firing of William Sessions, whose ethical misconduct was so extensive that it resulted in a six-month Justice Department investigation and a blistering 161-page report detailing his illicit activities, including flagrant misuse of public funds. Trump’s firing Comey at a time when Comey is investigating Russian intervention in the election on Trump’s behalf and the specific conduct of a number of people close to Trump undermines the credibility of his own presidency. And it deeply threatens the integrity of and public confidence in ongoing law enforcement and intelligence operations. [Lawfare, 5/9/17]

Conservative Media Praise Comey’s Firing

Sean Hannity: Comey “Is A National Embarrassment . . . He’s Very Lucky That President Trump Kept Him Around This Long.” Fox News host Sean Hannity praised Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey, saying it “was absolutely the single right thing for this president to do.” He also said that Comey was responsible for creating “a two-tiered justice system, one for Hillary and Bill Clinton, and one for the rest of America.” From the May 9 edition of Fox News’ "Hannity":

Sean Hannity (Host): James Comey, the former now FBI is a national embarrassment. It’s that plain. It’s that simple. And frankly, he’s very lucky that President Trump kept him around this long because of his now unhinged and very erratic behavior. Now firing James Comey was absolutely the single right thing for this President to do. It’s good for the country, and let me tell you why. Comey has failed you, the American people, on a spectacular level. And at every single turn, the FBI director disrespected the Constitution. He has shown he does not care about equal application of the rule of law being applied equally to every American. He has now stood by while our Fourth Amendment rights have been trampled upon. And worst of all, he has created in this country a two-tiered justice system, one for Hillary and Bill Clinton, and one for the rest of America. [Fox News, "Hannity", 5/9/17]

Tucker Carlson Praises Trump Firing Comey As Protection From “Dictatorship Of The Unelected.” On his nightly news program, Fox host Tucker Carlson said, “This firing was overdue and everyone in Washington knows it,” defending the President’s move to fire the FBI Director. Carlson claimed that “Comey was unfit for the office he held” and “ the new president should’ve canned him the afternoon of the inauguration. [Fox News, "Tucker Carlson Tonight", 5/8/17]

Andrew Napolitano Speculates That Comey Was Fired So Hillary Clinton “Can Be Indicted For Espionage.” On Fox News’ "The Story with Martha MacCallum", senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano said, “Let me suggest another scenario, that Rod Rosenstein reviewed the Hillary Clinton file, which he had never seen before and decided that Comey's judgment was utterly irregular and inappropriate and that maybe she should have been, and still can be indicted for espionage.” [Fox News, "The Story with Martha MacCallum", 5/9/17]

Kimberly Guilfoyle: “I Was Expecting It To Happen Even Sooner.” On Fox News’ "The Five", co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle said Trump firing FBI director James Comey “does not come as a surprise” was “expecting it to happen even sooner.”

Kimberly Guilfoyle: It seems to me though, that this really was a long time coming. And you talk about July 5th and going back to the election, I mean, there was grounds and reason for President Obama to remove him, really from his position as well and in terms of the recent developments with respect to his testimony, I think there was ample evidence there as well that he had mishandled his position and the authority that he was given as director of the FBI. This to me does not come as a surprise that it happened. Quite honestly, as a former prosecutor, I was expecting it to even happen sooner in terms of it being a problem with the public trust. And someone that really overstepped his bounds and assuming the role essentially of Loretta Lynch as if he was the AG as well. [Fox News, "The Five," 5/9/17]

Jesse Watters: “I Think They Could Have Built A Bigger Case Against Comey.” Fox host Jesse Watters criticized the Rod Rosenstein From the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five:

Jesse Watters (Co-Host): I think they could have built a bigger case against Comey. I mean, it's not just botching the Hillary Clinton investigation. They didn’t pursue the Clinton Foundation scandals. They gave everybody immunity in the Hillary Clinton email thing. Besides the Huma stuff, the FBI is also tied into that hoax Russian dossier too. And then even looking farther back they let these Russian Boston marathon bombers slip through the cracks. They let the nightclub bomber in Orlando slip through the cracks, remember they interviewed him. And then they totally embarrassed themselves after the San Bernardino shooting when they couldn’t crack into the iPhone and had Apple basically pancake them in front of the entire world. So this guy’s track record under the FBI, and they have great people at the FBI, hasn’t been that stellar.

John Roberts: But again, Jesse, when you look at that long letter from Rosenstein, it had nothing to do with any of that. It was purely —

Watters: They could have made that case and it would have bolstered their case, much bigger. [Fox News, The Five, 5/9/17]

Fox's Lou Dobbs Calls For Clinton Investigation To Be Reopened Now That Comey Is Gone. Fox Business host Lou Dobbs praised Comey’s dismissal during the May 9 edition of "Hannity". Dobbs added that now that Comey is out of FBI, the Clinton investigation “should be reopened”:

Lou Dobbs: The issue here is that Comey had it wrong from the very beginning. It's all based on an investigation that took 11 months to just drop everything, as you pointed out. The conclusion was to not prosecute, when every charge against Hillary Clinton was staring Americans who are not lawyers in the face. They know that she acted irresponsibly, she acted against the law —

Sean Hannity (Host): Illegally.

DOBBS: And there were — and there were absolutely no consequences. It is disturbing that this recommendation that came out today, that the president fired the FBI director does not leave clearly the pointer towards re-beginning, restarting the investigation of Hillary Clinton, because I think that is the effect here.

This whole judgment today on the part of the president was based on the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General saying, based on his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton he ought to be fired. That being the case, the question, the investigation, the consequences and that should be reopened in my opinion. [Fox News, "Hannity", 5/9/17]

NY Post: Firing Comey Was “Undoubtedly The Right Call.” A New York Post editorial argued that “Comey had lost the trust of Democrats and Republicans alike” and his firing was “likely inevitable.” The piece quoted a Trump administration official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who claimed that each of Comey’s decisions over the past few months “sparked resentment and frustration — doing, per Rosenstein, ‘substantial damage’ to the FBI’s credibility.’” The editorial concluded that dismissing Comey was “undoubtedly the right call.” From the May 9 editorial:

President Trump’s decision Tuesday to fire FBI Director James Comey took Washington by surprise — but was likely inevitable. Comey had lost the trust of Democrats and Republicans alike.

[. . .]

Officially, Comey was fired for his July public statement recommending that no criminal charges be brought against Clinton or anyone else over her e-mail mess.

[. . .]

Comey explained his reasons for each move, and they seemed well-intended. But each decision sparked resentment and frustration — doing, per Rosenstein, “substantial damage” to the FBI’s credibility.

It’s a sad ending to the career of a dedicated public servant, but undoubtedly the right call. [New York Post, 5/9/17]

WSJ Editorial Board: Comey “Has Committed More Than Enough Mistakes In The Last Year To Be Dismissed For Cause.” The Wall Street Journal editorial board opined that Comey “has committed more than enough mistakes in the last year to be dismissed for cause,” claiming that Comey’s public appearances “have become a self-exoneration tour to defend his job and political standing,” and he has “always been most concerned with the politics of his own reputation.” From the May 9 editorial:

President Trump fired James Comey late Tuesday, and better now than never. These columns opposed Mr. Comey’s nomination by Barack Obama, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director has committed more than enough mistakes in the last year to be dismissed for cause.

[. . .]

Then, 11 days before the election, Mr. Comey told Congress he had reopened the inquiry. His public appearances since have become a self-exoneration tour to defend his job and political standing, not least to Democrats who blame a “Comey effect” for Mrs. Clinton’s defeat. Last week Mr. Comey dropped more innuendo about the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia in testimony to Congress, while also exaggerating the new evidence that led his agents to reopen the Clinton file.

For all of these reasons and more, we advised Mr. Trump to sack Mr. Comey immediately upon taking office. The President will now pay a larger political price for waiting, as critics question the timing of his action amid the FBI’s probe of his campaign’s alleged Russia ties. Democrats are already portraying Mr. Comey as a liberal martyr, though last October they accused him of partisan betrayal.

The reality is that Mr. Comey has always been most concerned with the politics of his own reputation. He styles himself as the last honest man in Washington as he has dangled insinuations across his career about the George W. Bush White House and surveillance, then Mrs. Clinton and emails, and now Mr. Trump and Russia. He is political in precisely the way we don’t want a leader of America’s premier law-enforcement agency to behave. [The Wall Street Journal, 5/9/17]

Daily Stormer: “The Only Thing Surprising About James Comey’s Firing Is That It Took This Long!” Lee Rogers of the Daily Stormer, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi website, lauded Trump for his decision to fire the FBI Director, noting that he “wrote an article just five days ago questioning why Comey was still the FBI Director.” Rogers criticized Comey for “actively pursuing an investigation into all sorts of kooky conspiracy theories surrounding Russia,” suggesting that the investigation “appears to have been an attempt to sandbag the Trump team with allegations about Russian conspiracies.” From the May 10 article:

The only thing surprising about James Comey’s firing is that it took this long!

Donald Trump has just fired FBI Director James Comey. The firing was based on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. I’m honestly surprised that this didn’t happen sooner. In fact, I wrote an article just five days ago questioning why Comey was still the FBI Director.

[. . .]

On top of that, Comey has been actively pursuing an investigation into all sorts of kooky conspiracy theories surrounding Russia. This has been going on since the election and we’ve yet to see any hard evidence proving these alleged conspiracies. The only thing that’s been uncovered is that people in the Obama regime illegally spied on and unmasked information relating to members of the Trump team. This appears to have been an attempt to sandbag the Trump team with allegations about Russian conspiracies. [Daily Stormer, 5/10/17]

Breitbart: Trump Had “Breathing Room To Dismiss Comey” Because Clapper Said “He Had Seen No Evidence Of Collusion Between The Trump Campaign And The Russian Government.” Breitbart falsely claimed that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper “had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government,” which “gave the Trump administration the breathing room to dismiss Comey.” From the May 9 article:

But why fire Comey now? The answer is simple. The day before, President Barack Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper repeated, under oath, what he told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on March 5 — that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. That gave the Trump administration the breathing room to dismiss Comey — which it simply did not have before.

[. . .]

Put simply, if Trump had fired Comey while there were still serious questions about Russia, then it would have been more plausible to accuse him of trying to interfere in the investigation or cover up whatever happened. It is now clear that nothing, in fact, happened. Monday’s hearing with Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was meant to reveal a “smoking gun,” and produced nothing but viral videos of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. [Breitbart, 5/9/17]

Fake News Purveyors Join Conservative Media In Praising Comey’s Firing

Angry Patriot: The “Controversy Swirling Around” Comey “Came To A Head Today . . . GOOD RIDDANCE!” The Angry Patriot claimed that there was “a lot of controversy swirling around FORMER FBI Director James Comey,” writing that “we DO NOT need someone like this heading the FBI!”:

We have heard about a lot of controversy swirling around FORMER FBI Director James Comey. It all finally came to a head today. Suffice to say, Comey is officially out of friends. GOOD RIDDANCE!

[. . .]

As time goes on, more information is going to come to light regarding this case. There is a good chance that he got himself into trouble when he made the announcement regarding Hillary’s emails, then he tripped himself up trying to lie about it. We DO NOT need someone like this heading the FBI! [Angry Patriot, accessed 5/10/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

Right Wing News: “Hopefully” Republicans “Will Finally See An FBI With A Spine Under Our New President.” Fake news purveyor Right Wing News wrote that, “this is a serious win for Republicans and conservatives, who hopefully will finally see an FBI with a spine under our new President.” From the article:

President Donald Trump has finally done what conservatives and Republicans have been begging him to do since his election in 2016; give FBI Director James Comey his walking papers.

[. . .]

Regardless of the reason, this is a serious win for Republicans and conservatives, who hopefully will finally see an FBI with a spine under our new President. [Right Wing News, 5/9/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

TruthFeed: “Comey Spent The Better Part Of His Career Trying To Shill And Protect Democrats And The Clintons.” TruthFeed lauded Comey’s firing as “a win for all conservatives” and claimed that “Comey spent the better part of his career trying to shill and protect Democrats and the Clintons”:

James Comey was finally fired by President Trump!

This is a win for all conservatives since James Comey spent the better part of his career trying to shill and protect Democrats and the Clintons.

Just a few months ago, smug Comey was sure he was untouchable. [TruthFeed, 5/9/17; Media Matters, 12/14/16]

Washington Feed: “A Decision Many Were Waiting For Since The Inauguration Has Happened.” Washington Feed celebrated Comey’s being fired, suggesting that “Comey absolutely disgraced himself” during the Clinton email investigation and that the White House statements that had previously expressed confidence in Comey were “baffling”:

Well, a decision many were waiting for since the inauguration has finally happened — President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey.

[. . .]

Many of us express frustration and bewilderment that Trump chose to keep Comey upon taking office, and found White House statements about “confidence” in the director baffling.

Fortunately, it appears that confidence has run out. Better late than never.

By Madeline Peltz

MORE FROM Madeline Peltz

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