If obstruction of justice or other charges are eventually filed against Donald Trump over his sudden firing last May of FBI Director James Comey, the president will have a very hard time using his public explanation that Comey had “lost the confidence” of FBI agents as justification.
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A team of five editors, reporters and law students at the Lawfare blog using the Freedom of Information Act has uncovered numerous comments from within the FBI that puts the lie to Trump’s claim, as echoed by his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, that the FBI was in turmoil, Comey was a “showboat” and a “nutjob,” that the FBI was “in turmoil” and FBI agents were happy to see Comey go.
The FBI released to Lawfare 100+ pages of leadership communications dealing with Comey’s firing.
“The documents tell a remarkably consistent story about the reaction inside the FBI… it is not the story the W.H. has told about an agency in turmoil.” https://t.co/01HJs1HFGO
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) February 5, 2018
One of those who worked on this project was Nora Ellingsen, now a third-year student at Harvard Law who served as an FBI counterterrorism analyst for several years. Ellingsen reached out and spoke to 20 of her former colleagues even before the information accessed through the FOI request became available.
Ellingsen, reports the Lawfare blog, “characterized the opinion of Comey among the FBI’s rank and file as almost universally positive. ‘Nearly everyone loved him,’ she wrote, and the ‘degree of consensus on this point…has been incredible.'”
“All of the people I talked to,” continued Ellingsen, “described having the same reaction when they heard that the director had been fired: complete shock, followed by deep sadness.”
The president of the FBI Agents Association, Thomas O’Connor, adds Lawfare, “called Comey’s firing a “gut punch.”
That is anecdotal evidence and could have a bias, but Lawfare tapped into a more trustworthy source – the FBI itself.
Since Comey was fired so quickly, none of the field office or thousands of FBI employees had been notified in advance. After the news broke on TV, that led to emails being sent internally by managers across the country.
It is those emails which Lawfare was finally able to access after its FOI request and a lawsuit with the help of the group Protect Democracy, that move the process along.
They got over 100 pages of documents, while only 13 relevant pages were redacted. The mood of the FBI leadership, even as they tried to be as careful in what they wrote as possible, was impossible to miss.
“It shows that Ellingsen nailed it when she described a reaction of ‘shock’ and ‘profound sadness’ at the removal of a beloved figure to whom the workforce as deeply attached,” writes Lawfare.
“It also shows that no aspect of the White House’s statement about the bureau were accurate – and, indeed, that the White House engendered at least some resentment among the rank and file for whom it purported to speak.”
“As Amy Hess, the special agent in charge in Lousiville put it: ‘On a personal note, I vehemently disagree with any negative assertions about the credibility of this institution or the people herein.'”
The documents which provide internal FBI communications from across the country and, adds Lawfare, “contain not a word that supports the notion that the FBI was in turmoil. They contain not a word that reflects gratitude to the president for removing a nut job. There is literally not a single sentence in any of these communications that reflects criticism of Comey’s leadership of the FBI.”
“Not one special agent in charge describes Comey’s removal as some kind of opportunity for new leadership,” adds Lawfare in summing up what they found.
After Trump fired Comey while he was across the country in the Los Angeles field office working with agents – and learned by watching TV he was out – Sanders, the president’s press secretary, told the media that she too had heard “the FBI had lost confidence in their director” from “countless conversations with members from within the FBI.”
Sanders added that she heard from members of the FBI that they are “grateful and thankful for the president’s decision” and believed “Comey was not up to the task.”
— Ian Bassin (@ianbassin) February 5, 2018
Lawfare reports that in their conversations and in the documents they received under the FOI request, “if any FBI agent really got on the phone with Sanders to express gratitude or thanks ‘for the president’s decision,’ nobody reported that to his or her staff.”
The evidence suggests, writes Lawfare, that the president and Sanders were “playing fast and loose with the truth.”
You can read for yourself the many comments which support the fact the rank and file of the FBI was shocked, unhappy and disturbed by Trump’s arbitrary action, apparently in an effort to derail the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the role of the Trump campaign in that effort, and how Trump tried to hide the truth after the face.
Here is one such remark that captures the emotion which comes across from the FBI employees who had worked with and under Comey for several years.
David Schlendorf, assistant director for the Human Resources Division, wrote on May 12 to his workers, “You will not be surprised by the eloquence and grace of Director Comey, or by the genuineness of his message. He will be missed.”
Schlendorf added that the division should carry on “in homage to Director Comey,” and carry out “his vision of getting the FBI fully staffed, increasing the diversity of our workforce and leadership team, turning the FBI into a world-class leadership factory, and truly taking care of all members of the FBI family.”
“If we do all of those things as Director Comedy intended,” concluded Schlendorf, “then I know he would be proud of us. As you know, no one ever leaves the FBI family, and that will be very true of Director Comey.”
It is impossible not to sense the genuine feelings for Comey and the reality of the disappointment, unhappiness, and shock that his firing brought to the proud members of the famed agency.
That makes it even more sickening to see in no uncertain terms that Trump lied about why he fired Comey, about the quality of the job Comey was doing, and about the reaction of the agency’s agents, workers, and staff.
It is also disturbing that since then Trump has continued to try and whitewash his own lies and deceptive selfish actions and that more recently instead of helping build the FBI, the president has acted to discredit it, tear it down and punish good, hardworking people for doing their job under distressful circumstances.
If what is happening in Washington matters to you, I hope you will check it out.
And please share it too.https://t.co/dT54eonczw
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) February 3, 2018
We already knew Trump lies a lot but this shows he really is beneath contempt and a disgrace to the high office he holds.