News Briefs May 25, 2017

Trump fires FBI Director James Comey

On May 9, FBI Director James Comey was fired by President Trump. The president announced Comey’s firing via a news release along with letters from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommending Comey’s dismissal. Firing FBI directors is unusual; the last time this occurred was in 1993 when President Bill Clinton fired then-director William Sessions after a series of ethical violations.

Initially, President Trump stated that he fired Comey because of his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Trump also asserted that he had always intended to fire Comey (NBC News, “Lester Holt’s Extended Interview With President Trump,” 05.11.2017). Although there is evidence to corroborate Trump’s claim that he wanted to fire Comey for months, many speculate that the timing of this dismissal was strategic.

Soon after Comey was fired, it came to light that he had requested additional personnel to assist with his investigation of Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election. He felt that the FBI had not dedicated enough resources to the investigation and that it warranted more serious consideration than it had been given (The New York Times, “Days Before Firing, Comey Asked for More Resources for Russia Inquiry,” 05.10.2017). In February, he received a memo from President Trump asking him to halt the investigation of Trump’s former security adviser, Michael T. Flynn (The New York Times, “Comey Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation,” 05.16.2017). Many are concerned that Trump did not fire Comey earlier in his term as he allegedly intended to; rather he waited until Comey began investigating his presidential campaign to remove him.

On May 12, three days after Comey was fired, President Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press!” His implication of wiretapping and taping calls (which Trump was suspected of during his business dealings in New York) raised concerns about Trump threatening witnesses in the investigation, which is a federal crime (The New York Times, “Trump Warning to Comey Prompts Questions on ‘Tapes,’” 05.12.2017). Trump’s communications regarding Comey have been compared to the Watergate scandal, in which President Richard Nixon fired the prosecutor hired to investigate the case.

Comey also kept diligent records throughout his time as FBI Director. A former Department of Justice Spokesperson Matthew Miller, who has worked closely with Comey in the past, has indicated that this constitutes a purposeful use of bureaucratic structures. In an interview with The Washington Post, Miller noted “[Comey] might’ve had two motives here. One is, when you’re put in this situation, you want to make a record, so if the other side ever tells their story, you can pretty clearly demonstrate with contemporaneous records that you acted appropriately. I keep wondering — something in the back of my head keeps saying to me — maybe Comey was actually trying to build an obstruction-of-justice case against the president here,” (The Washington Post, “The guy who predicted Comey’s memos thinks Comey may be trying to take down Trump,” 05.17.2017).

After coming under fire for supporting Comey’s termination, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead the investigation into collusion with Russia. Rosenstein is currently the most senior White House staff member heading the investigation, as Attorney General Sessions recused himself due to his role in the Trump campaign and his undisclosed meetings with Russian government officials. Although he still must report to the Deputy Attorney General and to President Trump, Mueller in his role as special counsel will have more independence in running the investigation than a government-affiliated attorney would have (The New York Times, “Robert Mueller, Former FBI Director, Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation,” 05.17.2017).

—Sarah Dolan, Contributing Editor

Investigation follows Manchester Arena bombing

On Monday, May 22, the deadliest terrorist attack in Britain since 2005 occurred at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England (The New York Times, “Ariana Grande Manchester Concert Ends in Explosion, Panic, and Death,” 05.22.2017). The bombing injured 59 and killed 22 (The New York Times, “Ariana Grande Manchester Concert Ends in Explosion, Panic, and Death,” 05.22.2017). Details are still emerging about the attack, but police have identified Salman Abedi as the suicide bomber and ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack. The construction of the bomb appeared to be more precise and thorough than is typically seen in suicide bombs (The New York Times, “Found at the Scene in Manchester: Shrapnel, a Backpack and a Battery,” 05.24.2017). So far, seven people have been detained due to possible connection with the attack. Four people have been arrested, in England and in Libya, one being Abedi’s older brother Ismail who was aprehended in Tripoli (The Washington Post, “Manchester bombing probe expands with arrests on two continents,” 05.24.2017).

Prior to the Manchester Arena bombing, the threat level in Great Britain was set at the second-highest level, indicating the predicted likeliness of an attack (The New York Times, “Ariana Grande Manchester Concert Ends in Explosion, Panic, and Death,” 05.22.2017). The Prime Minister moved to the highest alert level after the attack, illustrating the fear of another terrorist attack in the near future (The New York Times, “Terror alert in Britain is raised to maximum as ISIS claims Manchester Attack,” 05.23.2017).

After looking further into Abedi’s travels and connections prior to the attack, officials are trying to understand possible connections to terrorist networks. The Washington Post reported, “The bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, had been in Dusseldorf just four days before the bombing. The development signaled an expansion of an investigation that already has stretched to North Africa and continental Europe” (The Washington Post, “Manchester bombing probe expands to Germany amid raids, arrests in Britain,” 05.25.2017). The investigation will aim to examine the possible connections of Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, to terrorist cells in Libya. However, it is unclear how successful the investigation will be in Libya. The Washington Post noted, “After six years of civil conflict and a revolving door of political and military players, it’s also unclear whether Britain and its Western allies have reliable contacts and sources to help with the probe. Every Western embassy in Tripoli has been closed for at least two years or longer; Italy’s reopened only this year” (The Washington Post, “Investigators face challenges as Libya becomes a key focus of bombing probe,” 05.25.2017).

As details continue to emerge surrounding the attack, there have also been concerns about information collected by British intelligence leaking via other countries, such as the United States and Germany. British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the disclosure of information on terrorist attacks in Britain by the United States, in particular. In response, President Trump said his administration would get to the bottom of the leaks: “These leaks have been going on for a long time, and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security” (The New York Times, “Trump condemns ‘alleged leaks,’ after complaints from Britain,” 05.25.2017).

The Washington Post reported, “Leaks from the ongoing investigation—including the publication of crime-scene photos in the New York Times and the naming of the suspected bomber by U.S. broadcasters—have provoked ire from British officials” (The Washington Post, “Trump calls for investigation of U.S. leaks in Manchester bomb investigation probe,” 05.25.2017). Numerous British officials have described the leaks as undermining the investigation. The New York Times has since defended their decision to publish forensic photographs and graphics of the crime scene, calling their coverage “comprehensive and responsible” (The Washington Post, “Trump calls for investigation of U.S. leaks in Manchester bomb investigation probe,” 05.25.17).

—Anika Lanser, Contributing Editor

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