The FBI Does Not “Serve At The Pleasure” Of Any President, They Serve The Rule Of Law
On Wednesday, California State Representative and GOP majority leader Kevin McCarthy, kicked up a storm of outrage when he suggested that Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey was justified.
“You serve at the pleasure [of the president],” he said, referring to Comey, and added, “For the good of the FBI and the country, it’s probably a good decision. So let’s move on.” — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Politico
Now hold up there a minute, McCarthy. Before we move on, we ought to inspect this phrase I keep hearing so much about- “at the pleasure of the President.” While it’s within the President’s power to fire a member of his administration, the insinuation here is quite different. Take a look at how Kellyanne Conway used the phrase back in February.
I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals. Uninformed chatter doesn't matter.
Shortly before this, Trump’s loyal lapdog, Stephen Miller had been widely criticized by the media for his comments supporting an authoritarian approach under the new administration.
WH Sr. Policy Adviser Stephen Miller: "The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned" https://t.co/sn3GyFATPD
If the phrase “at the pleasure of the president” kicks you in the feels for all the wrong reasons, you’re not alone. And what’s important here is not just the context, but the origins of the phrase. It’s meant to convey loyalty to a monarch, translated from a Latin phrase that means “at the pleasure of the king.” Yep. Just smacks of authoritarian regime, doesn’t it?
And as we know, Trump is obsessed with loyalty. The New York Times reports that in a private dinner Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty. Comey declined, saying he could only offer his honesty. Jake Tapper reports that this was one of the reasons Comey was fired.
While the phrase “at the pleasure of the president” was first widely used in an episode of The West Wing in 2006 (thanks a lot, Sorkin), it actually entered the political arena shortly afterwards. In December 2007, President George W. Bush was heavily criticized for the midterm firing of seven prominent US District Attorneys who were investigating Republican corruption. The response from the GOP leadership at the time looks like a regurgitation of the current conversation regarding Comey. As political appointees, these attorneys served at “the pleasure of the president.”
Except they don’t. And neither does the Director of the FBI. He takes the same oath as other federal employees and it looks quite similar to the one that Congress recites.
“I [name] do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.” Oath of Office, FBI
In fact, the only members of public service that specifically swear to serve the President are the members of our armed forces. As their Commander in Chief, the President is the final step in the chain of command for military officers. Everyone else, including James Comey, has sworn only two things; to uphold the rule of law and to do their damn job. Federal government officials, appointed and otherwise, have only one loyalty and it’s not to the president or the people. It’s to the promise of democracy that’s enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.