Former Deputy AG George Terwilliger: Nothing About Removing Comey Will Affect Any Active Investigations

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In an interview with Brookings Institution's Benjamin Wittes and PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff, former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush George Terwilliger says there is nothing unusual about the rationale behind President Trump's decision to fire James Comey.

"What we can say with complete confidence is that there’s nothing about removing Mr. Comey from this job that’s going to affect that investigation," Terwilliger said. "In fact, with all due respect to Ben, I think it’s an insult to the career men and women in the FBI and the Justice Department who are conducting that investigation to suggest that it would be so."

"That investigation’s going to proceed. It will proceed in a — in a appropriate and deliberate fashion. It will be led by those career folks. And, at the end of the day, it will go wherever it goes."

BENJAMIN WITTES, Brookings Institution: Well, the sudden White House concern for Hillary Clinton’s — fairness to Hillary Clinton is a remarkable turn of events.

I mean, in the time in which Jim Comey did the things for which he has now been removed, the only complaint on the part of Donald Trump was that he had not indicted or called — or recommended that Hillary Clinton be indicted.

The White House actually — Trump actually praised some of the very decisions that now form the basis for Comey’s removal. So, it’s actually a completely implausible set of rationales. Even if some people in the Justice Department may believe it sincerely, it’s very hard to believe that that’s what’s actually motivating Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: George Terwilliger, an implausible set of rationales?

GEORGE TERWILLIGER, Former U.S. Deputy Attorney General: No, not at all, Judy.

I think, clearly, what’s happened here, if we take Mr. Rosenstein at his word…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Deputy attorney general.

GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — is that the Justice Department leadership, he and the attorney general, lost confidence in Jim Comey’s ability to lead the bureau in a manner that would suit that important role and was needed in order to be an integral part of the Justice leadership team.

The reference back to what happened last July and progressed from there to the surprise in October about the new e-mails, I think, is just the history that inevitably led to where this ended up. And, in essence, I mean, Jim’s a fine man and a dedicated public servant and a very patriotic American.

But I think the judgment was made at the end of the day that he used some extremely poor judgment beginning in that July instance and continuing through the rest of this saga. And that did cause a loss of confidence.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you respond to that, Benjamin Wittes?

BENJAMIN WITTES: So, I think, you know, if all of that were the basis for his removal, it would have happened weeks or months ago.

Every single thing that forms the basis for the removal was as true three months ago as it is today. What’s different is, as The New York Times and Politico have reported over the last 24 hours, that the president is very upset about the Russia investigation.

And, you know, there is — I mean, it’s worth backing up and saying that there is nothing normal about removing the FBI director, as a general matter. It’s an extraordinary measure. This is an office that is typically served for a term of years, 10 years, to be precise.

There’s nothing normal about doing that while the president is and his campaign are the subject of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation about their relationship with an adversary foreign power.

And there’s really nothing normal about doing it in a fashion in which the director himself finds out that he’s been removed while addressing FBI agents in — you know, because it shows up on television.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He was out of town. He was in Los Angeles and learned about it from news accounts.

It is the case, George Terwilliger, that the accounts — reporters who have been working this story for the last 24 hours are coming back with all sorts of White House officials telling them, sources telling them that the president was angry over the Russia investigation, that that’s what led to this.

GEORGE TERWILLIGER: Yes. I can’t — I don’t have any insight to that, Judy. And I can’t really say anything about it.

But I think what we can say with complete confidence is that there’s nothing about removing Mr. Comey from this job that’s going to affect that investigation. In fact, with all due respect to Ben, I think it’s an insult to the career men and women in the FBI and the Justice Department who are conducting that investigation to suggest that it would be so.

That investigation’s going to proceed. It will proceed in a — in a appropriate and deliberate fashion. It will be led by those career folks. And, at the end of the day, it will go wherever it goes.

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