In dramatically casting aside James B. Comey, President Trump fired the man who may have helped make him president — and the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.
Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him, and Mr. Trump’s decision late Tuesday afternoon drew instant comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down.
In his letter firing Mr. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Mr. Trump made a point of noting that Mr. Comey had three times told the president that he was not under investigation, Mr. Trump’s way of pre-emptively denying that his action was self-interested. But in fact, he had plenty at stake, given that Mr. Comey had said publicly that the bureau was investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and whether any associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign were coordinating with Moscow.
The move exposed Mr. Trump to the suspicion that he has something to hide and could strain his relations with fellow Republicans who may be wary of defending him when they do not have all the facts. Many Republicans issued cautious statements on Tuesday, but a few expressed misgivings about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and called for a special congressional investigation or independent commission to take over from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees now looking into the Russia episode.
The appointment of a successor to Mr. Comey could touch off a furious fight since anyone Mr. Trump would choose would automatically come under suspicion. A confirmation fight could easily distract Mr. Trump’s White House at a time when it wants the Senate to focus on passing legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law.
John D. Podesta, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recommended the dismissal. “The attorney general who said he recused himself on all the Russia matters recommended the firing of the F.B.I. director in charge of investigating the Russia matters,” he said.
While Mr. Trump said he acted at the urging of Mr. Sessions, he had left little doubt about his personal feelings toward Mr. Comey or the Russia investigation in recent days. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.
The Watergate comparison was unavoidable. When Mr. Cox, the special prosecutor, subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes, the president ordered that he be fired. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused and resigned instead. The third-ranking Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, complied with Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Mr. Cox.
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