'This might rally them': Former FBI agent says Trump's move to fire Comey could backfire

A former FBI agent told Business Insider he was “surprised” at the timing of ousted FBI Director James Comey’s firing last week, adding that the ordeal would lead to increased camaraderie at the bureau.

The ex-agent, who spoke on background to provide their candid thoughts on the fallout after President Donald Trump’s shock firing of Comey last week, said the firing “caught everybody off guard.”

“There wasn’t any real triggering event,” the former agent, who served in the bureau for more than two decades, said. “Whenever there is something like this, there is some kind of lead up and it’s not totally caught by surprise. There’s at least some rumours.”

Trump fired Comey on Tuesday, citing a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That recommendation blasted Comey for his handling of the investigation into former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she served as secretary of state. But Trump later told NBC News that he would have fired Comey “regardless” of the recommendation from Rosenstein, later citing a need to wrap up the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

That counterintelligence investigation, announced by Comey at a hearing in March, is also looking into any potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials. The same day Comey was fired, a grand jury issued the first subpoenas in that investigation. CNN reported the subpoenas were issued for business records of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s associates.

Still, Trump said during that NBC interview that he received multiple personal assurances from Comey, whom he called a “showboat” and a “grand-stander,” that he was not personally under investigation, later tweeting that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Meanwhile, the White House pushed a narrative that Comey had lost the faith of his rank-and-file agents. Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing last week that a large number of individuals who work at the FBI told her “they’re very happy with the president’s decision.”

The former agent, who left the FBI prior to Comey’s confirmation as director in 2013 but maintains strong connections to the organisation and has worked with Comey previously, said the ousted FBI director enjoyed a “broad” level of general support at the time of his firing.

But, the agent did mention that Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation did create a “sharp division” in the FBI. And, with Trump looking to fill the vacancy in the coming days, the former agent said Clinton is “not completely out of the woods” regarding the email controversy.

“Trump’s unpredictable,” the former agent said. “If he goes back to the [campaign], that’s still on the table. In my opinion, legitimately on the table.”

The former agent said if the firing took place in the aftermath of Comey’s July press conference, in which he laid out the case against Clinton and then said the FBI would not recommend charges, those within the organisation would have less surprised by his ouster.

“But now that the dust has settled and he’s moved on and done other things and seemed to be doing ok, then now you’re going to be much more shocked,” the former agent said.

Surprising as well was the tone of Rosenstein’s letter, the former agent said, adding that there was “no way” that letter was put together within the deputy attorney general’s first two weeks on the job. ABC News reported Friday that Comey was “furious” with the lack of respect the White House showed him.

“So whoever was crafting that communication I think had been working on it for a while,” the agent said. “It is surprising to have that tone for a guy who’s only a couple of weeks on the job. Somebody took the time to put this together. It is a little surprising that he would agree in this short period of time, unless he agreed with it all.”

As to whether the firing of Comey would lead to the FBI’s Russia investigation calming down, the former agent said the complete opposite would happen. If Trump’s goal was to quash the investigation, this move will have “backfired.”

“That sort of stuff fires them up more than it tones them down,” the former agent said. “Nobody gets toned down.”

The former agent, however, said Comey left without a major event to help pull the bureau together.

“He was still fairly new, and he didn’t have an event like 9/11 like [former FBI Director Robert] Mueller had to kind of pull everybody together,” the former agent said. “And so I think the organisation is a little more divided in that, you don’t have that rallying event.”

The former agent paused for a second to think over his next point.

“This might rally them,” he said.

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