President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, sending shockwaves throughout the political world and prompting comparisons with the downfall of Richard Nixon in the 1970s.
Trump claimed he fired Comey on the recommendation of the Justice Department, which stunned many because Comey was heading the investigation into Russian ties with the presidential campaign. Princeton University history professor Julian Zelizer said the move is a “point of tension,” and an act of “imperialism” by Donald Trump.
Rutgers professor David Greenberg said it is difficult to draw any conclusion other than “coverup” after Comey’s dismissal. He added that Trump using his own appointee in the investigation is “tremendously worrisome.”
Comey’s firing, which marked only the second time an FBI director has been dismissed, have led to comparisons with the Watergate scandal 45 years ago. While several other presidents have had disagreements with FBI directors, only Bill Clinton fired one. William Sessions was dismissed in 1993 after the Justice Department determined that he had abused his position.
Trump’s action was especially brazen because members of his cabinet are under investigation by the FBI. It is also ironic due to Comey helping to steer the election in Trump’s favor by reopening the email case against Hillary Clinton in the last weeks of the election.
Greenberg said the first five decades of the FBI were fairly peaceful as most of the presidents deferred to the wisdom of J. Edgar Hoover. While there was conflict, push and pull, it was nothing like the tension that grew between Comey and Trump.
The Comey situation is reminiscent of Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor who was handling the Watergate investigation. Often referred to as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” the dismissal had little effect on the case being built against Nixon.
Greenberg said there were fears at the time that Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, would not handle the case as well, but he ended up being a very effective prosecutor because he never stopped following the evidence. It was proof that a corrupt administration could not bend things to its will.
It is currently unclear with whom Trump will replace Comey. After yesterday’s events, the world will be closely watching what unfolds in Washington.