What is going on? (Russia Stuff pt. 2)
In the past week, the news cycle has been churning. From James Comey to the Russians back to Comey, it’s a lot of information. If you need some background on some of the top Russian controversies, check out this guide. Yup. That stuff still matters.
Here are the three main stories from the last week, broken down into who, what, where, when, and why it matters.
Who: Comey, the (now former) Director of the FBI and President Trump
What: He was fired by Trump for, according to the administration, mishandling the Clinton email investigation. This stance has been questioned (more on that later). It is believed Trump fired Comey for leading the investigation into his ties with Russia — ties that were potentially criminal in nature.
When: On Tuesday, May 9
Why it matters: This move was kind of confusing. For some people, they saw it as Nixonian, and they related it to Watergate when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating him and the burglary that would eventually bring him down. But other people argued that Comey didn’t handle the email investigation well and firing him was overdue. But the real reason is probably somewhere in the middle.
Yes, Trump may have fired him over the email situation, but in a NBC Nightly interview, Trump said the Russia investigation influenced his decision to fire Comey. It was also repeatedly reported that Trump was agitated with the Russia investigation.
There aren’t necessarily inherent signs of wrongdoing in the firing, but there are more confusing and connected revelations to come.
Who: President Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak
What: Trump had a meeting with the Foreign Minister and Ambassador, and he starting discussing highly classified intelligence regarding Islamic State terror threats.
Where: In the Oval Office
When: The meeting occurred the day after Trump fired Comey (May 10), but it wasn’t revealed until Monday, May 15 by the Washington Post.
Why it Matters: If anyone but the president had revealed this information to a foreign adversary they could have been prosecuted under the Espionage Act. But the president can disclose confidential information legally at his discretion. Here is why this is concerning:
- By giving this intel to the Russians, it “jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.” Basically, they could figure out who or what the source of information is.
- The intelligence wasn’t even being shared with other allies. The States and Russia are both fighting the Islamic State, but they aren’t working together.
- Trump didn’t seem to be doing this as a part of a grand nefarious plan to work with Russia. Instead, it was a blunder seemingly as Trump bragged about his access to intelligence: “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day,” he said in the meeting according to The New York Times.
This gaffe, in particular, has raised the debate again about Trump’s competence and ability to lead. Now it seems his errors are potentially dangerous.
The White House said Trump’s actions were “wholly appropriate,” but they denied certain allegations about the meeting that the Washington Post article didn’t make. And they didn’t address allegations they did make.
3. Comey’s memo
Who: Comey. Again.
What: Comey shared a memo with FBI officials which detailed a meeting with Trump where he asked Comey to shut down the investigation into Gen. Michael Flynn. Flynn had just resigned because he had potentially illegal contact with Russian officials during the election. The memo is part of a paper trail Comey started in order to document what he believed was Trump’s “improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation.”
Where: The memo was given to FBI officials
When: The meeting took place on Feb. 14, just after Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor. He shared the memos with FBI officials, but they kept them a secret until Tuesday, May 16 when the New York Times reported on them.
Why it Matters: This shows that Trump attempted to interfere in the FBI’s investigations connected to his campaign. The FBI is meant to be an independent entity, so Trump hoping to sway them is definitely not acceptable. However, since he didn’t order the end of the investigation, it isn’t illegal. This revelation is on the heels of the two previous stories, firing Comey and unwittingly telling the Russian ambassador classified information.
Comey also appears to have more accounts of conversations with Trump that could prove to be just as disastrous. Additionally, the New York Times said that “An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.” In Comey’s career, his notes have been corroborated when they covered controversial topics, like when he confronted President Bush about a surveillance program.
The White House denies the account of Comey and Trump’s conversation.