Like so much else about the Russia story, this is meant to forestall whatever storm is coming. For the record, it was in March that Mr. Comey confirmed in a congressional hearing that the F.B.I. was investigating links between Trump associates and the Russian government. It was at this same hearing that Mr. Comey testified that he had “no information” to support Mr. Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. In retrospect it’s amazing that Mr. Comey lasted as long as he did.
It’s also worth pointing out that the ostensible reason for the firing was, according to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “restoring public confidence in the F.B.I.” That was the subject line of Mr. Rosenstein’s memorandum to Attorney General Sessions, which was, remarkably, released to the public. If “restoring public confidence in the F.B.I.” was ever really the intention, Mr. Trump’s termination of Mr. Comey has had the opposite effect.
Nothing, then, is as it appears.
What happened on Tuesday is unprecedented, a word I don’t use lightly. Never in our history has the president of the United States fired the director of the F.B.I. while the president’s associates and campaign aides were under investigation by the F.B.I. (Richard Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox involved dismissing a special prosecutor, not an F.B.I. director.)
A powerful, independent person Mr. Trump did not appoint and whose investigation he clearly feared has been summarily fired. Given his volatility and vindictiveness, his Nietzschean ethic and his overpowering narcissism, this is exactly what one would expect of Mr. Trump.
The fear many Trump critics have had is that he is, as I put it just after the inauguration, a transgressive personality and a man of illiberal tendencies who was unlikely to be contained by norms and customs. He would not use power benevolently but unwisely, recklessly, and in ways that would undermine our democratic institutions and faith in our government.
In firing James Comey, that is precisely what Donald Trump did.
The independence and integrity of the F.B.I. are the most recent casualties of President Trump’s careless assault on our governing institutions. They will not be the last. A few Republican politicians know this. Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, for example, called the timing of Mr. Comey’s firing “very troubling.” But he and a couple of others are the honorable exceptions.
The Republicans who have so far stood in lock step with Mr. Trump, defending him at every turn, need to ask themselves whether they want to continue to be complicit in this institutional assault. By now it should be clear to them that having Donald Trump’s back will cost them their integrity.
It’s not worth it.