President Donald Trump’s extraordinary decision to fire the FBI director James Comey is a stunning moment in American politics, one that has historians reaching back decades for any parallels.
Comey’s termination, which the president says was a recommendation from the Justice Department, comes as the FBI continues to investigate allegations that people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign had undisclosed ties to Russia. Comey was supervising that investigation.
“This is bad,” said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton. “There’s no way to see it other than: this is a high point of tension and it is in some ways an act of presidential imperialism against the point man in this investigation.”
“I don’t revere James Comey as an arbiter of neutral justice,” said David Greenberg, a professor of history at Rutgers, “But the thought of having the president’s own appointee overseeing that is just tremendously worrisome. I don’t see how you can’t conclude that a coverup is likely to be in the works. I don’t suppose how anyone could come to any other conclusion.”
The details are unlike anything that’s happened in American history—it is only the second time an FBI director has been fired—but the contours of the firing have parallels. One name that keeps coming up: Richard Nixon.