If you tuned in late, you might think you were watching The Apprentice, just another episode of Donald Trump’s “You’re fired.” Or you might think a time machine had catapulted us back to the infamous “Saturday night massacre,” when embattled President Richard Nixon sacked Watergate independent prosecutor Archibald Cox, which prompted the resignations of Attorney General Eliot Richardson and then Deputy A.G. William Ruckelshaus. But we’re not on reality TV, (though it does seem that Donald Trump is in some alternate universe.) And this is 2017, not 1973.
Whatever the flaws in FBI Director James Comey’s performance over the last 18 months – and there were some glaring examples – , we can’t avoid the fact that our President fired the man who was leading the investigation of our President. He had the legal right to do so, but the decision at this time, to me, smells of obstruction of justice.
Nor can we avoid the fact that the official – Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who had pledged to recuse himself from the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign was the person who recommended to the President that he fire the man overseeing the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Trump insists that the firing was because Comey “wasn’t doing a good job.” But we must ask “why now?” especially since Trump was full of praise for Comey when Comey was making questionable moves regarding information on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server. Especially since Comey’s missteps were related to events last summer. Especially since Trump could have let him go in January after the inauguration.
Why now? The only variable bearing in the timing of Comey’s firing is the stepping up of the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. In Comey’s recent meeting with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (appointed just two weeks ago), Comey had asked for a significant increase in resources for the investigation. All along, Democrats have been calling for an independent counsel or special prosecutor, and that urging has intensified. (A law facilitating such an appointment was allowed to expire years ago.) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says doing so would delay the ongoing investigation. His concern lacks credibility.
Among the many unanswered questions are: whom will Trump nominate to replace Comey? How tough will the Senate Judiciary Committee on the nominee? Can Republicans and Democrats overcome partisanship and recognize that getting to the bottom of this mess is essential to the security of the nation and the integrity of its electoral process? I’m encouraged that both leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), have called on Comey to testify before it in closed session next Tuesday.
Donald Trump’s actions go beyond those of an entitled CEO of a closed corporation. They are those of a third-world dictator, an autocrat for whom process is an inconvenience to be eliminated at the stroke of a pen. He is ignorant, impulsive, inconsistent, an invitation to chaos.
Recent Congressional performance has been wanting. What Republican of stature will step up to the challenge? Who will be the “Howard Baker” of 2017? (Baker was the Republican Senator from Tennessee who famously asked of Richard Nixon, “what did the President know, and when did he know it?”) Who today will rise to the occasion? Will it be John McCain? Richard Burr? Jeff Flake? Ben Sasse? Putting principle over party can lay the groundwork for real and drastically needed bipartisanship.
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