The Year of the Personnel Blunder

It’s hard to remember now, but for nearly the first four months of Donald Trump’s presidency, there were several stories contesting for predominance. There was the repeal of Obamacare, the Muslim travel ban, the unprecedented conflicts of interest, and even the attacks on “fake news.”

But that all changed May 9th in what may one day be seen as one of the biggest personnel blunders in American history: Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Since then, trying to keep up with all the news in the wake of Comey’s firing — the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, Comey’s congressional testimony about Trump asking the FBI Director to publicly clear him and to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the indictments of Paul Manafort and his aide, Rick Gates, and the guilty pleas of George Papadopoulos and Flynn, has been a bit like trying to sip water from a fire hose.

Rather than a simple chronology of the year’s events, which relies on the reader to make connections between disparate elements, the following is a thematic review of the Russia probe, enabling the reader to more clearly understand the contours of the landscape.

Justice as Personal Privilege

James Comey learned he was out of a job while speaking to FBI agents in Los Angeles. As he stood at the lectern, a television behind him flashed the news he had been dismissed. He thought it was a joke at first. It wasn’t. 

The firing touched off a sequence of events that for a moment seemed as if they might threaten the Trump presidency, and in fact, they may still,

To some, Comey’s firing appeared as a desperate final act by Trump, scrambling to derail a criminal and civil investigation into his associates, his business, his family, and even himself. It immediately raised the prospect that the president had obstructed justice — that he was perverting the fair and dispassionate rule of law to protect his own interests….

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