President Donald Trump appreciates symbols and subtext, especially when he’s the one employing them. Much has been made of the pardons he’s issued or discussed in recent weeks, and about what messages they may be sending to key figures surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, both those considered to be his allies, and those who are his sworn adversaries.
But now the president finds himself on the receiving end of a not-so-subtle message fired at him by James Comey, the man Trump sacked in a vain attempt to squash the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s operation to undermine the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
Comey has hired former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to join his legal team to help him “navigate his dramatic role as a potential witness in the investigation of President Trump’s campaign and potential obstruction of justice,” Talking Points Memo reported late Tuesday.
Fitzgerald found himself back in the spotlight last week when the president decided to grant Scooter Libby, a figure in President George W. Bush’s administation, a full pardon for his role in the illegal unmasking of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
Plame’s husband, Joe Wilson, had uncovered the lies that the administration had told the American people about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program, and evidence suggested that Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and others in Bush’s inner circle engineered her unmasking in 2003 in retaliation. The case was assigned to Patrick Fitzgerald, who secured Libby’s conviction on four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice in 2005.
Those convictions, and the dogged, determined way he pursued the investigation, made Fitzgerald a bonafide villain to Republicans, who have chafed about the entire Plame affair ever since.
President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence before leaving office, but stopped short of granting him the full pardon that President Trump issued last week.
The subtext and symbolism of the oddly timed pardon was widely seen as a not so subtle wink-and-nod message to President Trump’s fall guys in the Trump-Russia scandal, namely former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his longtime personal attorney and all around lackey, Michael Cohen: keep your mouths shut, take whatever sentence Mueller hands down, and you’ll be pardoned down the road.
It was also seen as a shot across the bow to Robert Mueller, who was the FBI Director during the Valerie Plame affair and would have had to sign off on Fitzgerald’s appointment as the special counsel in the Valerie Plame case.
Now Comey is taking that message and shoving it right back in Trump’s face. The irony couldn’t be more piercing.