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Glenn Greenwald on Trump’s “Shocking” Firing of FBI Chief James Comey Amid Russian Probe

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President Trump has set off a political firestorm after firing FBI Director James Comey, just weeks after Comey confirmed the FBI was investigating whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election. Trump said he made the decision based on the recommendation of newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who both faulted Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Rosenstein faulted Comey’s remarks last July, when he announced the FBI would not seek charges against Clinton. The New York Times reports Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire Comey. For more, we speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: President Trump has set off a political firestorm after firing FBI Director James Comey, just weeks after Comey confirmed the FBI was investigating whether Trump’s campaign collaborated with Russia to sway the 2016 election. Comey was four years into a 10-year term. The firing came on the same day that CNN reported federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election. This all comes as President Trump prepares to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House today. It’s Lavrov’s first visit to Washington since 2013. The firing of James Comey has led dozens of Senate Democrats to call for a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump administration.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump said he made the decision based on the recommendation of newly appointed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who both faulted Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. Rosenstein faulted Comey’s remarks last July, when he announced the FBI would not seek charges against Clinton. The New York Times reports Attorney General Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire Comey. Democratic Senator Al Franken and others slammed Sessions for participating in Comey’s firing after recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Senator Franken said, quote, “This is a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn’t be involved in the investigation,” unquote. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended Trump’s firing of Comey.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: I also find it interesting that the same individuals who are out there making these statements on the other side of the aisle are the same people, including the minority leader, who said very clearly just a few months ago, “I have lost confidence in the attorney—in the FBI director.” So, the same people, from Nancy Pelosi to Chuck Schumer and the—Adam Schiff, over and over again, questioned his ability to effectively lead the FBI. And it seems a bit ironic that they are now sort of questioning the president’s decision to side with something that they clearly articulated a few months back.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: This morning, Donald Trump tweeted, “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!” In recent months, Comey had come under widespread criticism from many Democrats for notifying lawmakers just before the election that the FBI was once again investigating whether Clinton had sent classified information from her private email server while she was secretary of state. Just last week, Clinton said Comey’s actions factored into her loss.

AMY GOODMAN: But on Tuesday, several of Clinton’s closest aides slammed Trump’s decision to fire Comey. Clinton’s former campaign manager, Robby Mook, wrote on Twitter, “Twilight zone. I was as disappointed and frustrated as anyone at how the email investigation was handled. But this terrifies me,” he said.

Well, to talk more about the firing of the FBI director, James Comey, the future of the FBI and more, we’re joined by the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept.

Hi, Glenn. Thanks so much for being with us. It’s great to have you live in our studio here in New York. Your response to President Trump firing James Comey?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, in the hundred-plus short days of the Trump administration, I think there have been many things Donald Trump has done that have been menacing and even heinous, but I actually don’t think there are many things that he has done that you could say were shocking, given the things he promised to do during the campaign, as well as who he revealed himself to be both during the campaign and in the decades preceding that. This, however, is the only word you can think of for it, is “shocking.” Aside from the fact how rare it is for presidents to fire FBI directors—it’s something that’s typically tolerated only under the most extreme circumstances, when there are serious ethical issues that have arisen about the director’s behavior—for him to do this just two weeks after Comey made huge news by announcing that he was overseeing a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia, on top of which there have been very recent developments in that case of subpoenas being issued to close Trump aides, it is incredibly—it’s just stunning that they would be so indifferent to the obvious appearance that this is about nothing more than Trump directly interfering into an investigation targeting him, by removing the person spearheading it.

I think what’s even more amazing is the rationale that they concocted in order to justify this, because, of course, they needed to come up with a reason beyond “We’re firing Comey because we’re concerned about the investigation aimed at Trump.” So, for them to raise these criticisms of Comey, that were actually widespread, including among many Democrats—six months ago, when it actually happened; namely, that Comey took it upon himself to make the decision about terminating Hillary Clinton’s criminal investigation because he thought Loretta Lynch couldn’t do it, and even more so that Comey stood up and didn’t just say, “We’re ending the investigation,” but said, “Here are all the reasons why Hillary Clinton did awful things”—to pretend that that’s what offends them, it’s such an insult to everyone’s intelligence that it raises the real question about what is the actual reason.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go back to October 2016, when Trump was on the campaign trail and said Comey had guts for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

DONALD TRUMP: And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad, what happened originally. And it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had, where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. But I’ll tell you what, what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back. He’s got to hang tough, because there’s a lot of—lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s Trump speaking last year, October 2016, on the campaign trail. Now, in Trump’s letter to Comey, he wrote, quote, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Now, White House officials refused to say anything more about these three separate occasions Trump cited in the letter.

Republican Representative Justin Amash took to Twitter, saying Trump’s claim was, quote, “bizarre,” and calling for an independent commission to investigate Trump’s link to Russia. He tweeted, quote, “My staff and I are reviewing legislation to establish an independent commission on Russia. The second paragraph of this letter is bizarre.” Republican Senator Jeff Flake tweeted, quote, “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.”

So, Glenn Greenwald, can you talk about what Trump was saying in October 2016 and what he said in the letter?

GLENN GREENWALD: Certainly. So that clip that we just watched was, as you said, from October, and there he was praising Comey for having sent that last-minute letter to Congress announcing the reopening of the investigation. That doesn’t seem to be the reason they’re pretending to have fired Trump [sic]. They’re pretending to have fired Trump [sic] because what they’re angry about is the press—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Fired Comey.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, fired Comey, excuse me—is the press conference that Comey held in which he stood up and announced that the criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton was coming to an end. But then he did something extraordinary—

AMY GOODMAN: In July.

GLENN GREENWALD: —for an FBI director—right, back in July—which was, he didn’t just say, “We’re ending the criminal investigation.” He then went on to opine on her conduct, which is what you don’t want an FBI director ever to do, because what he just—

NERMEEN SHAIKH: He said it was careless, right?

GLENN GREENWALD: He said [she] was careless and reckless and things—he gave about 15 minutes of very harsh criticism. And the reason why that’s so disturbing, genuinely, is because you don’t want an FBI investigator essentially trying somebody in public but not charging them. The problem, though, is that Donald Trump loved those comments. In fact, I think the only thing that he quoted during the campaign more than the Bible was that Jim Comey speech. And so, now to turn around six months later and say, “We’re firing him for the remarks that we actually loved him making at the time”—Jeff Sessions loved it, they all loved it—that’s what I think people are finding so difficult to swallow.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, I mean, right through to the inauguration—right through to the confirmation speech at the Republican convention, he would make statements leading to that chorus of “Jail her! Jail her!” And now, right after James Comey confirms he’s investigating the Trump administration, this is when this firing comes down. That speech that you’re talking about was in July. Why didn’t he fire her—why didn’t he fire James Comey the day after the inauguration?

GLENN GREENWALD: And why weren’t Republicans, like Jeff Sessions, criticizing Comey for the public comments that he made about Hillary Clinton? There was a debate at the time, where Democrats were saying what Comey said was inappropriate, but Republicans largely were saying what Comey said was necessary and important to inform the public. And so, I think that because nobody—nobody—believes there’s any plausibility to this rationale, it’s clear what happened here.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, founding editor—one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His latest piece, “Trump’s Support and Praise of Despots Is Central to the U.S. Tradition, Not a Deviation From It.” This is Democracy Now! Donald Trump has fired James Comey. We’ll keep discussing it. Stay with us.

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Glenn Greenwald: Independent Probe Needed to Uncover Truth Behind Russia’s Role in 2016 Election

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