Foreign diplomats try to understand 'weird' Comey firing

Trump: Comey was not doing a good job
Trump: Comey was not doing a good job

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Story highlights

  • Dana Shell Smith, envoy to Qatar, sent her tweet in the wake of Comey's dismissal
  • Smith sought to moderate her comments with a follow up tweet

Washington (CNN)A US ambassador has taken the rare step of expressing frustration with the Trump administration for complicating American diplomats' work overseas.

On Wednesday morning local time, soon after FBI Director James Comey was fired, Dana Shell Smith, envoy to Qatar, tweeted: "Increasingly difficult to wake up overseas to news from home, knowing I will spend today explaining our democracy and institutions."
The exact target of her comment was unclear, but it was widely interpreted as criticizing President Donald Trump for dismissing Comey. Her tweet comes as foreign envoys and officials in overseas capitals said they are increasingly looking for help in understanding the Trump administration's positions and actions.
Comey's firing was the latest incident to leave allies seeking clarity. Many diplomats told CNN they were surprised by the move and struggling to figure out what happened.
Not only do US policies and decisions reverberate around the world, but a large part of a foreign envoy's job is writing back to their governments to explain developments in their host countries.
The investigations of Russian interference in the US election campaign and the ongoing FBI investigation into possible links to the Trump campaign have been followed worldwide, not least in European ministries that have had similar experiences with Russian-backed campaigns.
By and large, even close allies told CNN they were surprised by Trump's move to fire the man leading the probe into possible Russian links to his campaign, with foreign officials in Washington and overseas looking for answers.
Foreign diplomats posted in DC were trying to get clarity after the latest twist in US domestic politics but said they don't expect it anytime soon.
Most described the move as further indication of the President's unpredictability, with one saying, "it's just another weird move by President Trump."
Another envoy said, "We were in question mode before this happened and we still are."  
This diplomat noted the irony of Democrats' anger about Comey's firing, given their dissatisfaction with him and their sense that he cost their party's presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, the election.
Some of the diplomats said that they hoped this political issue wouldn't further paralyze an administration that the ambassador described as having "a total lack of coherence on foreign policy."
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WH: Comey firing may hasten Russia probe's end 00:50
Still, the diplomats all said that their governments had no official reaction since Comey's fate was considered a US domestic issue.
One diplomat added that Comey was not a major headline, saying, "I can't say people are going crazy about it back home." 
None of foreign diplomats who spoke to CNN wanted to speculate on what Comey's firing said about the future of the Russia investigation or US policy toward Moscow -- a matter of crucial interest to Europe and Ukraine.
But many wondered about the irony of the photo of Trump in the Oval Office smiling next to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov -- and the message it sent. The photo was taken by Russian state media a day after Comey was fired. No US press were granted access.
"I wonder if anyone is explaining to him how this looks," one diplomat said, referring to images of Trump laughing with the Russians a day after a move that many critics saw as an attempt to derail the FBI's Russia investigation. "You don't expect missteps at this level," the diplomat said.
Smith alluded to the questions from foreign interlocutors in a follow up tweet Thursday, writing, "diplomats explain & defend our political system. Can be tough when partisan acrimony so high, but there is still no greater country."
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
Smith, a 25-year career foreign service officer with a focus on public diplomacy, is expected to finish her post in Doha this summer.
Trump accepted the customary resignation of all ambassadors who were political appointments at the beginning of his administration, but most career ambassadors have been allowed to stay on for the duration of their terms.
Smith was appointed to the job by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2014 after serving both Democrat and Republican administrations.
"In our connected world, what happens in Washington has relevance. Part of the job is to explain all parts of American democracy. People are fascinated by our country," a foreign service colleague who is close to Smith told CNN. "She swore an oath, serves our country and makes a good-faith effort to explain what is going on at home, regardless of which party is in office."
The colleague noted that Smith hosted an Election Night party in November and made remarks the day after Trump's historic win congratulating the President-elect.
Several US diplomats overseas privately acknowledged it was difficult to explain some of Trump's policies to the world, such as the executive order banning citizens from several Muslim-majority countries.
Smith and other colleagues shared a tweet from another State Department official expressing support for former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump in January for refusing to comply with the travel ban.
"'I did my job.' #SallyYates represents the honorable career people whom unknowing people call the swamp & who are the backbone of republic," the tweet said.