How Can We Tell Whether Comey's Firing Was Justified


| 5/15/2017 9:10:00 AM


Tags: Donald Trump, James Comey, Science and Technology,

 White House
Photo by AdobeStock/assetseller

This piece is reprinted with permission by TomDispatch.

We all want our top investigative bodies to be headed by competent officials. We also all want to ensure that these officials can freely investigate other branches of the government — including the presidential administration — without fear of retribution. How can we tell whether Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was meant to ensure competent leadership of the FBI, as Trump claims, or to prevent Comey from digging deeper into Trump’s potential connections with Russia, as many Democrats claim.

Our personal political perspectives will strongly influence us to favor one explanation or the other, regardless of the truth. According to behavioral science research, our minds tend to interpret new information in accordance with our past beliefs — a thinking error known as the confirmation bias. Fortunately, we can fight the confirmation bias in such situations by evaluating the opinions of people who both have the most information and have political motivations to support one side, but fail to do so or even support the other side.

In this case, we can observe a number of prominent Republicans expressing concerns over Comey’s firing. Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who heads the Senate’s Russia investigation, stated that he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s firing, which “confuses an already difficult investigation for the Committee.” So did a number of other influential Republican Senators, such as Bob Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and stated in response to Trump firing Comey that "It is essential that ongoing investigations are fulsome and free of political interference until their completion.” Representative Justin Amash, who belongs to the conservative House Freedom Caucus, even stated that he intends to introduce legislation calling for creating an independent commission to investigate Russia's interference in the election. Pat Tiberi, a conservative member of the House, expressed potential support for a special prosecutor of the Trump and Russia connection and stated that “the White House needs to come clean.”

Altogether, about 40 Republican members of Congress have expressed concerns over Comey’s firing, while virtually every Democrat is calling for an independent commission or special prosecutor to evaluate Comey’s firing. While some of these Republicans are known for breaking ranks at times, such as Senator John McCain, many others — such as Corker and Burr — are mainstream Republicans who generally toe the party line. This data on many of those in the know — federal lawmakers — who have clear political motivation to align with Trump firing Comey instead broke ranks provides strong evidence that the decision to fire Comey is less about incompetence and more about the Russia investigation than anything else.