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The Many Upsides of Comey's Termination


President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has sparked a massive political backlash, and the White House has scrambled to come up with several different narratives to explain the decision.

Given this reaction, one might assume that the Comey termination was an extremely harmful and unjust decision–even by the standards of the Trump Administration. However, a more sober analysis of the situation suggests nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Comey's firing should offer something for almost everyone to like. Let's go through it.

Comey Deserved to Be Fired

First things first. After his handling of the Clinton email probe in 2016, James Comey was one of the most eminently fireable people in the Executive Branch.* And there are many different reasons one might agree with this statement, regardless of one's partisan affiliation.

Volunteering Information on a Pending Investigation

One problem with Comey's conduct was the infamous letter he sent to Congress a week before the election, informing them that the FBI may have cause to reopen the investigation into Clinton based on an unrelated investigation into Anthony Weiner. This was a breach of the FBI's general policy not to comment on pending investigations–a policy exists for a very good reason.

Announcing that someone is being investigated by the FBI casts suspicion on them and harms their reputation. If the investigation subsequently turns up empty-handed, then an innocent person had their name sullied for no legitimate reason. Even if the FBI issues a follow-up statement, as they did in Clinton's case after this letter, noting that no relevant information was found and the investigation was fruitless, this does not undo the initial harm. Invariably, the initial accusation will draw more attention than the discovery that, in fact, there was no story in the first place.

As a brief tangent, this is the same phenomenon that occurs in the news media when they run a sensational, belligerent story, only to have it roundly debunked in a few days' time. In some cases, the initial story will prove so obviously erroneous that the Times or the Post will actually issue a correction or editor's note to walk the story back to reality. But that only occurs after the original bogus story has been read and shared thousands of times. Not surprisingly, the initial accusation makes for a much more interesting read than the realistic correction.

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