By now, you know that everything the White House has told us about the firing of FBI Director James Comey is false. We were led to believe that Donald Trump fired Comey for inflicting “atrocities” on Hillary Clinton while investigating her private email server. But in truth, Trump fired Comey in hopes of derailing the investigation into Russia’s effort to hack the election.
Well, add another lie to the list. You may recall that just hours after Comey’s firing on May 9, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, then the deputy White House press secretary, claimed that Comey had lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI agents. Watch here.
Sanders told Tucker Carlson that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended Comey’s firing in part because it was obvious Comey could no longer capable of doing his job–in part because his own troops no longer had confidence in him.
As we now know, that was one of many lies told early on by the Princess of Lies. But we got even more evidence that was a lie on Monday. The folks at Lawfare got their hands on a raft of communications from senior FBI leaders and special agents in charge which prove beyond any doubt that FBI agents weren’t jumping up and down when Comey was fired. Far from it.
Lawfare first suspected something was amiss when one of its contributors, former FBI counterterrorism expert Nora Ellingsen, spoke with 20 of her former colleagues about the firing. To a (wo)man, they all felt “complete shock, followed by deep sadness” at the news. Combined with deputy director Andrew McCabe praising Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as the president of the FBI Agents Association calling the firing a “gut punch,” it was obvious that something didn’t add up.
That prompted Lawfare co-founder and longtime Comey friend Benjamin Wittes to file four Freedom of Information Act requests for all communications between senior FBI leadership and the rank and file, as well as between special agents and charge and the staffers at the various field offices around the country. You may know Wittes as the man behind the “tick tick tick” tweets preceding damaging information about Trump.
It took a lawsuit to produce them, but the FBI finally sent the documents over the weekend–103 pages worth. Read them here. They reveal that most agents, even special agents in charge, learned about the firing when we learned about it–via the news. John Strong, the special agent in charge in my hometown of Charlotte, told his team:
“According the the news, Director Comey has resigned. That’s all I know.”
Similar reactions came from Strong’s counterpart in Boston, Harold Shaw, who said:
“Wish I had more to share at this point. Will update accordingly.”
In Dallas, special agent in charge Erik Jackson said that he had yet to receive “any confirmation” of Comey’s ouster from Washington. In Detroit, special agent in charge David Gelios had likewise heard no confirmation of Comey’s firing, and was left to “hope this is an instance of fake news.”
Later that day, McCabe, now the acting director, held a conference call for FBI management in order to pass on orders. According to Douglas Lindquist, assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, most of those on the call were “somber.” The great majority of emails from special agents in charge echoed McCabe’s reminder that the FBI’s mission remained unchanged. But inevitably, management let their emotion for their boss of six-plus years to show.
For instance, assistant director for human resources David Schlendorf reminded his team that “no one ever leaves the FBI family, and that will be very true of Director Comey.” San Francisco special agent in charge John Bennett described the news as “hard to hear and harder to comprehend.”
Comey was visiting the Los Angeles office when he found out he’d been fired. Assistant director Deirdre Fike said that Comey “felt the warmth” of the agents in the room as he left, and wouldn’t forget it. Following the lead of the New Haven office, she put together a book of letters to Comey.
But the most telling reaction of all came from the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, who helped Comey get back to Washington on an FBI plane. When Trump found out about it, he hit the ceiling. McCabe replied that had he known about the request, he would have approved it.
All told, these are hardly the acts of people who feel liberated from a boss in whom they no longer had confidence. In light of this, Wittes has one question for the Princess of Lies.
Memo to the press: this is a good day to revisit with Sarah Huckabee Sanders the subject of her supposed communications with the FBI rank and file the week of the @Comey firing. Perhaps she and the President would like to clarify their remarks?
— Benjamin Wittes (@benjaminwittes) February 5, 2018
We don’t just need a clarification. We need an apology–to all the brave men and women of the FBI who have been used as pawns by this White House in a cynical way.
(featured image courtesy FBI’s Flickr feed, part of public domain)