On Tuesday, President Donald Trump fired James Comey, director of the FBI. Although Comey had been widely criticized for his handling of investigations related to the 2016 election, his dismissal was a shock to many observers, because he was overseeing an investigation into Russian interference in the election and whether any members of the Trump administration were involved. We're liveblogging the aftermath of the dismissal below; here are some highlights from our ongoing coverage:
The Senate Intelligence Committee Subpoenas Michael Flynn
The Senate Intelligence Committee formally issued a subpoena Wednesday to Michael Flynn, President Trump’s former national-security adviser, for “documents relevant to the Committee’s investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.” In a press release announcing the subpoena, Richard Burr, the committee’s Republican chairman, and Mark Warner, its Democratic ranking member, said they had originally requested the documents in an April 28 letter but Flynn declined to offer them voluntarily.
The subpoena is among the most advanced steps yet in either congressional investigation into Russian electoral interference. While the committee indicated it was the natural outcome of Flynn’s refusal to cooperate, it also sends a signal that the committee’s work will go forward despite FBI Director James Comey’s controversial ouster on Tuesday. NBC News reported that it’s the first of its kind from the Senate Intelligence Committee since the 9/11 attacks investigation and the first subpoena for documents from the committee since the Church Committee in the 1970s, which investigated U.S. intelligence-community abuses.
Was Comey Fired After Asking for More Resources in the Russian Meddling Investigation?
The Department of Justice is denying reports that former FBI Director James Comey was fired just days after he asked for more resources to investigate alleged connections between the Trump administration and Russian election meddling.
The New York Timesfirst reported the news Wednesday morning, saying Comey met with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein last week, according to three anonymous sources. Rosenstein is the top official in charge of the investigation, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after it was learned he failed to disclose meetings with the Russian ambassador. Rosenstein also wrote the memo recommending Comey’s dismissal.
Whether or not Comey asked for more resources and then found himself without a job a few days later is important because it bolsters the narrative that the Trump administration is seeking to undermine the investigation into Russia’s alleged election meddling. In a terse response to The Atlantic, when asked if the reports were true, DOJ spokesman Ian Prior said, “totally false.”
The Times reported that Comey briefed members of Congress after his meeting with Rosenstein, and told them he was frustrated by the lack of personnel and money provided to his agency for the investigation. He said he hoped to speed up the investigation, but in order to do so he needed more resources.
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with the investigation into Russia. She said Rosenstein and Sessions both told Trump they had concerns about Comey, and that Trump asked them to “put those concerns in writing.” Not long after, Trump fired Comey.
In Full Hockey Gear, Putin Responds to Comey's Firing
While President Donald Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Wednesday morning at the White House, President Vladimir Putin was back in Russia preparing for a hockey game. As he was about to take the ice, CBS News stopped Putin at the rink’s entryway. Putin greeted reporter Elizabeth Palmer with a smirk. Dressed in hockey pads and a jersey, through a translator, Putin played off Comey’s dismissal as a purely domestic issue. Here’s a transcription of the quick conversation, and below it the video.
“Sir,” Palmer said, “how will the firing of James Comey affect U.S.-Russia relations?
“There will be no effect,” Putin replied. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don't be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and constitution. What about us? Why we?”
“You see,” Putin told Palmer, “I am going to play hockey with the hockey fans. And I invite you to do the same.”
According to Russian media, Putin only learned to ice skate six years ago. He finished the game with seven points.
The Republicans Who Find Trump's Timing Suspicious
Democrats say James Comey’s firing comes conveniently as the investigation into Russia’s alleged interference in the presidential election ramps up. And while there are plenty of conservatives who’ve rushed to support Trump’s decision, as my colleague Russell Berman notes, some Republicans have also called the timing suspicious. Arizona Senator John McCain, who has long been a critic of Trump, said he was “disappointed” in the decision. McCain acknowledged that the “president does have that constitutional authority. But I can’t help but think that this is not a good thing for America.”
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker said it was important the investigation be free of political interference, and that Comey’s “removal at this particular time will raise questions.” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, who is also chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, said the “timing of this firing is very troubling.” And North Carolina Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr also said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of Comey’s dismissal.
Dir. Comey has been more forthcoming w/ information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intel committees.
Other Congressional Republicans who are skeptical of Trump’s decision include Michigan Representative Justin Amash, who called part of Trump’s dismissal letter to Comey “bizarre,” because the president thanked the FBI director for assuring him on three occasions that he was not being investigated. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake tweeted Tuesday night that he’d “spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey's firing. I just can't do it.”
The handover of power was a solemn affair. There was no mistaking the new administration for the old one.
At dawn this morning, workers loaded couches and tables into a moving truck parked outside the West Wing. Men wearing white coveralls and carrying roller brushes and paint cans walked across the north driveway. Inside the White House, pictures of the 45th president had been removed from the walls. Only the hooks remained, ready for a new set of portraits of the 46th.
A lone Donald Trump press deputy, Judd Deere, sat in his small office, writing a note on a piece of stationery to whomever would be taking over his desk in a few hours. Deere was attempting to describe what it’s like to work in the building. When I looked in at noon, after the Trump presidency had officially ended, he was gone, his desk cleared. Even the magazine racks hanging on the wall had been emptied.
The president is returning to a freshly renovated White House—and it includes an unusual display.
Here’s a little quiz. Take a look at the picture of the photo above, which shows the newly redecorated Oval Office that is occupied by Donald Trump. What’s unusual in this scene?
As a helpful hint, here’s a close-up of the area you should be looking at:
Is it the Remington bronze statue known as “The Bronco Buster” on the right, which many presidents have displayed? No. The portrait of Andrew Jackson just above the statue, which has survived the departure of Jackson-fan Steve Bannon? No. The bust of Lincoln, on the left? Beneath the portrait of Jefferson? No, and no—although it would be instructive to know the thoughts of the third and the 16th presidents as they gaze on the 45th.
Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.
President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.
In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?
I’ve been thinking about Barbara Tuchman’s medieval history, A Distant Mirror, over the past couple of weeks. The book is a masterful work of anti-romance, a cold-eyed look at how generations of aristocrats and royalty waged one of the longest wars in recorded history, all while claiming the mantle of a benevolent God. The disabusing begins early. In the introduction, Tuchman examines the ideal of chivalry and finds, beneath the poetry and codes of honor, little more than myth and delusion.
Knights “were supposed, in theory, to serve as defenders of the Faith, upholders of justice, champions of the oppressed,” Tuchman writes. “In practice, they were themselves the oppressors, and by the 14th century, the violence and lawlessness of men of the sword had become a major agency of disorder.”
What should have been a week-long celebration of the resilience of American democracy has turned into a dark circus. Instead of citizens lining Pennsylvania Avenue to cheer and greet a new president, all of downtown Washington, D.C., is an armed camp. Soldiers patrol the streets while workers clean excrement off the walls of the Capitol, a perfect tableau for the end of the short and ghastly age of Trump.
We are expecting far too much of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris if we think they can fix all of the damage Donald Trump did to the republic. Presidents and vice presidents are not wizards. They cannot rewind history. They cannot single-handedly make us better people.
However, I do believe that Biden can inspire the American people to regain one of the most important virtues Trump destroyed: seriousness, our understanding that ideas, actions, and words matter.
Trump leaves behind a wounded nation, and it will take time to heal.
So what if he was bad at it?
The five years of the Trump era—which began with his descent down the gilded escalator in Trump Tower in 2015 and are ending with a massive military presence in the nation’s capital to protect the transfer of power to his successor—brought a sustained assault on self-government. This assault was most often futile, almost always buffoonish, and, as the conversion of the seat of the federal government into an armed fortress demonstrates, unquestionably real.
Throughout the Trump era, some have argued that Trump’s incompetence rendered his authoritarian aspirations inconsequential.
“Our weak, ranting, infected-by-Covid chief executive is not plotting a coup, because a term like ‘plotting’ implies capabilities that he conspicuously lacks,” wrote the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat in October, describing the president as a “noisy weakling.” Douthat has since re-evaluated his position, but for a long time he was the most articulate proponent of the argument that Trump was not as dangerous as his opponents believed.
The new president must not repeat Obama's mistakes.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1932, the nation was facing concentric crises: the immediate, house-on-fire disaster of rolling bank closures; the broader economic depression; and, beyond that, deeply entrenched problems that the depression had highlighted, including elderly poverty. Roosevelt’s first 100 days addressed the first two crises with historic directness. He reopened the banks and directly employed thousands of Americans through measures such as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Then, near the end of his first term, he signed the Social Security Act, which has reduced senior poverty and become one of the most popular federal programs in the United States.
President Joe Biden also faces concentric crises, which move outward toward the future as you unpeel them: the biological threat of the pandemic, the economic recession, and, beyond that, the entrenched problem of child poverty. He also has to contend with the problem casting a shadow over the whole century, the existential crisis of climate change.
Hopefully one day, getting vaccinated will mean you no longer need a mask. But not yet.
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, James Hamblin takes questions from readers about health-related curiosities, concerns, and obsessions. Have one? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Dr. Hamblin,
I’m still confused about what our lives will be like after we are vaccinated. As I understand it, it will still be possible to get the virus, but hopefully the course won’t be as severe or life-threatening. And we are going to have people who won’t even get the vaccine. Do you foresee us still wearing masks for the next year or two? I hate to even type this question.
New London, New Hampshire
I can’t wait to stop wearing masks. I want to go out without a mask so badly that I’ve been dreaming about it. That’s how far the pandemic has lowered the ambitions of my dreams.
COVID-19 diagnoses start with a barrage of grueling decisions and paralyzing worries. Did I infect anyone else? Whom will I tell? Where can I isolate? Should I go to the hospital? Will I be okay?
Millions of Americans have fallen sick with this virus, and we’ve seen the full kaleidoscope of ways people react and cope with illness. Some have dutifully rung up contact tracers and locked themselves in total isolation. In March, after a 63-year-old man in Los Angeles broke out in coughing fits and couldn’t get hold of a coronavirus test, he spent five days quarantining in his 2009 Mercedes. Other people have been an epidemiologist’s worst nightmare. Someone in southern Oregon kept going to work after falling sick, super-spreading the virus and killing seven people. A groom in Texas reportedly tested positive one day and went on with his maskless wedding party the next. “Oh, no, no, no, don’t freak out,” a bridesmaid told the very freaked-out photographer. “He doesn’t have symptoms. He’s fine.”
In Washington, D.C. today, Joe Biden took the oath of office shortly before noon, becoming the 46th president of the United States of America. In front of a small, socially distanced, and well-guarded audience on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol, President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in. The singers Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks performed; the poet Amanda Gorman gave a reading; and Biden delivered his inaugural address to the nation. Gathered below are scenes from a unique moment in American history.