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Monday, March 13, 2017

Can the FBI Director be Fired?

By Douglas V. Gibbs
AuthorSpeakerInstructorRadio Host

The President of the United States is the head of the executive branch.  I've been teaching that for years.  But, someone asked me, how easy is it for the President to fire the FBI Director if he feels he needs to be replaced?

Depends on who you talk to.

Early on, the first FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, held his position for 48 years.  He was independent from the President, and had a special relationship with Congress.  A law in 1968 was passed to keep the head of the FBI down to a 10 year term, with an extension possible only with congressional approval.

Since the power Hoover wielded, and the independence he practiced, that kind of power and independence simply has not been in place.  An FBI Director in 1993, William S. Sessions, was fired for alleged ethical reasons by President Bill Clinton.  Some in Congress complained, but Congress never blocked the action.  The President claimed there had been a loss of confidence in Sessions’ leadership. Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno recommended the dismissal.

Clinton's actions show us that the President can fire an FBI Director as easily as just about anybody else in his executive branch.  While unwritten rules say the President can only oust an FBI director for a specific cause, like misconduct in office, technically, there are no statutory conditions on the President’s authority to remove the FBI director.

Members of the executive branch serve at the pleasure of the President, and can usually be fired anytime if the President decides to do so.  While I am not a fan of the courts, even a broken clock can be right twice per day.  The federal courts, and Supreme Court, have tended to rule in a manner that preserves the power of the President to be fully in charge of the executive branch.  While there is a ten-year term provided by that law in 1968, in truth, the opportunity to serve a full term depends upon retaining the confidence of the President, including the incoming President.

Comey was nominated as FBI Director President Obama in 2013, a curious choice since Comey had been a Bush "Dubya" appointee as a U.S. District Attorney.

Now, Comey has turned on Trump, and the question over whether it is wise to keep him in place is on the table.

Last year, the Senate’s leader of the Democratic minority, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Comey of violating the law.  A letter was sent stating Comey's "actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election.” Accusing the director of “partisan actions,” the letter said that “you may have broken the law.”

Richard W. Painter, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who served as President George W. Bush’s White House ethics lawyer for two and a half years, filed formal complaints last year against Comey with two government agencies that investigate political activity or potential misconduct by government employees. Explaining his action in an opinion piece published on the website of The New York Times, Painter wrote: “I never thought that the FBI could be dragged into a political circus surrounding one of its investigations. Until this week.”

Can Trump trust Comey to continue as FBI Director when there has already been calls for his dismissal in the past?  If not, he can simply fire him and be done with it, if he so desires.

-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary

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