In a swirl of sobering questions about the Constitution and the rule of law, many Republicans are asking simply: Why now? Why?!
Republicans around town, and even some White House officials, tell me they're baffled by President Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey in the middle of his Russia investigation — and with the explanation that it's because of his handling of Hillary's email, which Trump had praised him for in the past.
"They just barely got the tiniest bit of momentum going after the House health care bill, and now it's like the engine has fallen out of the car," said an outside adviser to the West Wing. "The Russia thing will now go on forever. And the rationale in the letter was preposterous. This was a tremendous miscalculation."
Even some White House officials believe that the likely result will be a special counsel, which Democrats are now pushing nearly in unison. AP reports that Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said last night that he told Trump in a phone conversation "[Y]ou are making a big mistake."
The firing increases scrutiny of the feds' Russia probe, and will make Democrats even more aggressive with their investigation.
Comey, who's 6 foot 8, literally and psychically towered over so many national dramas of the past decade, and is accused by Democrats of tipping the presidential election.
Adding to GOP bewilderment, the announcement came 10 days before Trump leaves on his first foreign trip, to centers of three great religions — Saudi Arabia, Israel and Rome. Trump has said he hopes the trip will begin to "construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies."
"That's the kind of thing that changes history and the trajectory of a presidency — a permanent legacy," the adviser said. "The timing of this is all bad for Trump."
Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman under President Obama, said everyone he talked to at Main Justice last night was in shock. Miller said it was clear internally that the White House didn't trust Comey, and couldn't control him.
"This makes no sense in the short term," Miller said. "But if the long-term threat is the survival of the administration itself, then you take the short-term risk."
P.S. Trump on Comey, at a campaign rally on Oct. 31, after the FBI director sent a letter to Congress saying he was reopening the Clinton email probe: "It took a lot of guts. I really disagreed with him. I was not his fan. But I'll tell you what he did, he brought back his reputation. He brought it back. He's got to hang tough because there's ... a lot of people want him to do the wrong thing. What he did was the right thing."
... we'd like answered:
David Ignatius column in WashPost, "The Russia mystery deepens even further":
The Comey putsch heightens the mystery at the center of the Flynn case: Why Trump didn't react sooner to warnings about Flynn's involvement with Russia. Why didn't Trump listen to President Barack Obama's caution against hiring him? Why did Trump wait 18 days before removing his national security adviser after urgent advice that Flynn could be "blackmailed"?
The timing ... N.Y. Times' Michael Schmidt tweets: "WH and DOJ had been working on firing Comey since at least last week. Sessions had been working to come up with reasons."
The intrigue ... NYT's Maggie Haberman tweets: "The White House fired Comey with no replacement set, with no clear messaging and no legal experts or surrogates lined up."
How Comey found out ... NYT's Michael Schmidt (who broke the Hillary personal-email story back in March 2015): "Comey was addressing a group of F.B.I. employees in Los Angeles when a television in the background flashed the news that he had been fired."
The backdrop ... WashPost's Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous and Phil Rucker: "Several current and former officials said the relationship between the White House and the FBI had been strained for months, in part because administration officials were pressuring Comey to more aggressively pursue leak investigations over disclosures that embarrassed the White House and raised questions about ties with Russia."
"Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records," per CNN's Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz and Pamela Brown:
"Echoes of Watergate," per N.Y. Times' Peter Baker, above the fold:
Axios list of all the people comparing Trump to Nixon.
N.Y. Times Quote of the Day ... President Trump, in his letter yesterday firing FBI Director James Comey: "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau."
Newly intriguing ... 48 hours before the firing, Axios' Jonathan Swan scooped that Trump had warned top staff to stop dumping on Flynn.
"3 people fired by Trump were all investigating Trumpworld," by Axios' Shannon Vavra:
"In an attempt to pressure Republicans to join calls for an independent prosecutor, Senate Democrats have been asked by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to be in the Senate chamber at 9:30 a.m. [today] when the legislative day begins." (WashPost)
What to expect from Snap's first earnings report, out at market close today, per Axios' Kia Kokalitcheva and Sara Fischer:: Snap "commanded a massive valuation at IPO despite being unprofitable and having far fewer users than Facebook, so it will have to show improved financials and continued growth. It also must fight growing perceptions that Instagram's cloning of its most popular features is a serious threat."
P.S. "Exclusive: Gore presses Trump on climate pact," by Axios' Ben Geman: "Former Vice President Al Gore personally urged President Trump not to abandon the Paris climate accord in a phone conversation on Tuesday morning."
The Bloomberg Pay Index, a ranking of the best-compensated U.S. executives for 2016, by Anders Melin: