The job of FBI Director could be up for grabs soon, as James Comey, a man both reviled by Democrats and Republicans, may be on the presidential chopping block.
Before President Donald Trump was elected, Comey became the Democrats’ Public Enemy No. 1 after he sent a letter to Congress announcing the reopening of a probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails—just over a week before Election Day. When he announced no new charges, the FBI head became the scorn of Republicans across the country.
This week, the Obama-appointed director testified before the House Intelligence Committee, confirming Trump’s campaign is being investigated, namely “whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
The FBI is an agency within Department of Justice (DOJ), and the director of the FBI is subordinate to the Attorney General in the executive branch’s chain-of-command. Officially, FBI directors stay on for 10 years.
Only one director in FBI history—William S. Sessions, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987—was fired by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 after a bevy of allegations regarding ethics violations.
During Monday’s testimony, it was difficult to not hear Trump uttering his “you’re fired” catchphrase when he next meets with Comey in private. If this suggestion had been presented after the Nov. 8 election, it would have been deemed unreasonable. But now—after hearing Comey state to Congress that Trump’s under investigation, while denying allegations of wiretapping during the 2016 campaign—one can’t help but think Trump is ready to pull the trigger.
But could Trump really fire the country’s chief law enforcement officer?
The FBI director is under the attorney general. If a president wanted to fire one, he’d issue the order to the attorney general. But even so, the position of FBI director has a 10-year-term—unlike other members in the presidential cabinet.
According to a 2014 report by the Congressional Research Service, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. “There are no statutory conditions on the President’s authority to remove the FBI Director,” it says.
National Review journalist Andrew McCarthy, the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, says the president is authorized to fire anyone—even the FBI director—in the executive branch.
“Under the Constitution, all executive power is endowed in one official, the president of the United States. Every official who wields power in the executive branch thus wields it at the pleasure of the chief executive. The president may terminate any executive officer, even those who have been confirmed by Congress, for any reason or no reason. The FBI director is no different,” he writes.
If Trump were to fire Comey right after his comments to Congress, there could be a massive political backlash from pundits, fellow Republicans, officials inside the DOJ, and the FBI, and possibly even some of his own voters.
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