As news that President Trump had fired FBI Director James B. Comey spread, Russian President Vladimir Putin went public with a very odd statement for a foreign leader to give about a domestic issue in another country.
To reporters, Putin said Russia had “nothing to do with” the decision to give Comey the boot. When asked whether it would affect Russia-U. S. relations, Putin offered a simple assessment: “There will be no effect.”
“Your question looks very funny for me,” the leader continued. “We have nothing to do with it. President Trump is acting in accordance with his law and constitution.”
Other Russian leaders though, could barely hide their delight at the announcement. Comey, they suggested, got his comeuppance for his probe into Russian hacking of 2016 U.S. presidential election. One lawmaker took to Twitter to troll Comey, writing, “the FBI director was surprised by the decision to fire him. He was so busy monitoring the ‘Russian threat’ that he didn’t see the threat of his own dismissal.”
Директор ФБР удивился решению о своей отставке. Так активно отслеживал "росс. угрозу", что не сумел выявить угрозу собственного увольнения.
— Алексей Пушков (@Alexey_Pushkov) May 10, 2017
Around the world, others were less sanguine. In an opinion piece in Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky suggested that the Comey scandal undermines the United States' position as a global leader. He writes:
The so-called Trump-Russia scandal is eating the U.S. from the inside, undermining the country's global role at least as much as President Donald Trump's erratic moves do. The firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James B. Comey is another dent in the U.S. leadership of the Western world. … It makes the U.S. democracy look weak and unstable as one European country after another shows it can successfully resist populist challenges like Trump's.
It comes, too, at a moment when European countries have rejected populists, and when Europe's economy is growing at a steadier clip than the United States'.
British columnist Julian Borger described Trump's decision as a “dark and dangerous” new territory for American democracy. He wrote that experts have drawn comparisons between Trump's action and the behavior of “tinpot dictatorships.”
Experts, such as Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, told Think Progress that Trump has been exhibiting "authoritarian tendencies" since he took office. This fits in, she said, with a larger pattern to put stress on U.S. democratic norms and the rule of law.
“Democracy is threatened in drips,” Ben-Ghiat told the news outlet. “You have drips and drips. ... Then you have these [huge] events."
Political science professor Sheri Berman drew parallels between Trump, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungary’s Viktor Orban. Like those leaders, Trump has slowly “chipped away at democratic institutions, undermined civil society, and slowly increased their own power.”
Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist who focuses on political extremism and populism in Europe, told Think Progress that the effort looked "personally and politically motivated."*
Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote that “over the 110 days since, normalisation has indeed looked possible. … It’s hard to maintain a permanent state of fury, and so Americans and those watching from around the world have risked becoming inured to what is, in fact, a deeply abnormal presidency. And then something comes along that is so big and so shocking, it snaps you out of your slumber. The sacking of FBI director James B. Comey is, for the moment at least, one of those events.”
The Daily Express, a British tabloid, suggested that Trump's odds of impeachment have soared in the wake of his firing of Comey.
Around Europe, other news outlets expressed shock and skepticism about Trump's stated reason for firing Comey.
Germany's Der Spiegal called it “The Tuesday Night Massacre,” a reference to President Richard Nixon’s order to fire a special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal. The outlet also said that “few believe” that Comey was not fired for his investigation into Russia's election meddling.
In France, Le Monde described Trump's actions as a “coup de force” against the FBI.
In an analysis, Israel's Haaretz suggested that Comey's dismissal “created a crisis of confidence in the resilience of U.S. democracy and in the ability of checks and balances to repel a direct assault on the rule of law by a president who doesn’t play by any rules.”
According to the Atlantic, which has a great roundup of foreign coverage:
In China, state-run Xinhua news agency framed the decision as an abrupt surprise, “even to those at the center of the country’s political machinery.” The independent Hong Kong-based daily South China Morning Post offered a similar framing of the affair, which it called a “stunning maneuver” amid the FBI’s Russia investigation.