Should We Care About Comey?

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By Joe Lowndes (May 11, 2017)

The Comey firing puts the left in a bind. On the one hand, he was the head of the most powerfully repressive institution within the US. The chief enemy of all struggles for liberation, the damage it has done to people, organizations, and movements over the last century is incalculable.

Under Comey, the FBI has been no different. It has harassed and intimidated antiwar activists, manipulated fragile individuals to ensnare organizations with terrorism charges, surveilled Muslim students, menaced ecology movements, coordinated the national crackdown on Occupy, and did the same with Black Lives Matter. And this is only what we DO know.

On the other hand, firing Comey during an investigation of Trump’s Russia connection is an obviously authoritarian move to keep himself and his administration above scrutiny, one which seems to expand autocratic power in the executive office.

Comparisons to Nixon abound, and they are apt as far as they go. But there are differences. Nixon acted when he was truly cornered, when mounting evidence pointed directly at him – which the White House tapes would reveal, he knew. And firing Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was, it was ruled, illegal. Trump, on the other hand, is well within his authority to fire the head of the FBI before his ten-year term is up. There are no statutory conditions attached to his power to do this.

What’s more, there is nothing Trump can do to prevent a Congressional select committee from carrying on a thorough investigation of Russiagate. Should they fail to do this, it is not evidence of Trump’s executive authoritarianism as much as the GOP’s congressional collusion, which is a different issue. And in any case, if there is really a smoking gun here, there is nothing to prevent Comey or other FBI agents from coming forward now, particularly if they sense that there is in danger of their institutional autonomy being destroyed.

At some other level, where Nixon acted with increasing paranoia, fearing loss of control, Trump seems to revel in the humiliating the FBI director, as Edmund Fong suggested. Sending a courier to blindside Comey at a speech to the FBI in Los Angeles was theatrical and sadistic, not a fearful, cagey attempt to shield his own actions. Roger Stone, the old Nixon dirty trickster and current Trump confidante, buoyantly told Politico Tuesday night that he enjoyed a fine cigar after hearing of Comey’s dismissal. It all feels somehow more like masterful trolling than damage control.

With all this in mind, I’m not sure that we should be putting efforts into demanding impeachment (which will never happen anyway), or defending the institutional role of the FBI. If Comey’s firing is a failure of democracy, it will have been a systemic failure of an increasingly decaying Constitutional frame, not merely one of Trump’s own authoritarian desires.

The dangers of Trumpism are very real and very serious, and I think we have to combat them. But those dangers are plain to see: mass detainment and deportation, the DOJ’s greenlighting of local police attacks on people of color, and the very rapid growth of fascist formations in communities across the country among them. it seems to me that these are far more egregious than dubious claims of foreign control of the executive branch.

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