The firing of FBI Director James Comey, widely thought to be the result of Comey’s handling of L’Affaire Russe, would have been scandalous on its own. What we now know is that it was more than an isolated abuse; it was a window into how President Donald Trump understands the role of federal law enforcement—and a template for how he would wage war on the apolitical application of the law.
The firing seems to have proceeded from a genuine befuddlement on Trump’s part at the expectation that anyone in power might not use his position—as Polemarchus says to Socrates about the nature of justice—to reward friends and punish enemies. Within the FBI, the action was considered so extreme that it triggered a counterintelligence investigation of whether the president himself was working on behalf of Russian interests. But Trump, for his part, appears to find it downright odd that he is not supposed to use the Justice Department and the FBI to go after his political foes and protect himself from scrutiny. When he’s not actively chafing at the restrictions, he’s made almost wistful by the powerful instrument he has but cannot use. In one 2017 interview, when asked “what’s stopping the Justice Department” from investigating Hillary Clinton, Trump told a radio talk show: “You know, the saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things I would love to be doing, and I am very frustrated by it.” Trump asked of the department, “Why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her emails and with her dossier, and the kind of money? … It’s very discouraging to me. I’ll be honest, I’m very unhappy with it.”