By: Kevin W
On Tuesday, Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in a move that surprised not only members of both parties, but James Comey himself, who learned of the news from TV.
While it is the prerogative of the President of the United States to remove an FBI director, Trump’s actions present a massive conflict of interest for the Trump administration. Think about this: Trump just fired the director of the agency currently investigating whether his own campaign had any ties to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. On top of that, Trump did so at the recommendation of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who was forced to recuse himself from that very investigation.
Jeff Sessions’s involvement, despite his recusal, makes this a political move, and worse, a move that undermines trust that the FBI can continue its investigation unimpeded and in earnest. An independent justice system, free of political interference, is crucial to maintaining public confidence in their investigations. The FBI simply cannot be seen as a political tool of one party or another.
The explanation for Comey’s firing was problematic as well. The White House offered the flimsy explanation that Trump’s confidence in Comey had been eroded over his handling of the Clinton email scandal. Does anyone truly believe that? Trump has made it clear there’s no love lost between him and Hillary. In fact, just days before the election Trump celebrated Comey’s reopening of the investigation, praising his “guts.” If Trump truly thought this was an issue, he could have fired Comey in January after taking office.
Instead, Trump fired Comey just weeks after Comey told Congress that the FBI was actively investigating potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and just days after Comey reportedly asked the Justice Department for additional resources to speed up the investigation. Even if we were to take the White House at its word and believe the firing was performance related, the timing couldn’t look more suspicious.
The scenario drew immediate comparisons to Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in which then-President Nixon pressured both his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. Both resigned in protest but Nixon nevertheless when the acting head of the Justice Department fired Cox.
If Trump, like Nixon, thought he could sweep a negative story under the rug by firing a justice official, he may be in for a rude awakening. Democrats have already renewed their calls for an independent investigator to be assigned. And while many Republicans, like Mitch McConnell, have stayed true to their track records and have fallen in line behind Trump, others have broken ranks with their criticism of how Trump handled the situation.
But criticism is not enough. Republican Senators like John McCain and Ben Sasse, who both released statements critical of the termination, need to put their money where their mouth is. Calling Trump’s actions “troubling” in a statement is one thing; voting to do something about it is another. Public pressure will be required to ensure they do the right thing.
After the Saturday Night Massacre, American citizens inundated Congress with telegrams urging action. Now we have to do the same.
Remember that most of the GOP is standing behind Trump on this matter. They do not see, or more likely do not want to admit, that Trump’s actions are dangerous. But since the power to appoint an independent counsel rests with the Department of Justice, their influence is necessary; only with a bipartisan movement in Congress will there be enough pressure on the DoJ to appoint one. And the only way to ensure that influence is leveraged for constituents is to put pressure on their elected officials.
Thankfully technology makes contacting officials easier than ever before. You can find your senators’ contact information here, and your representative’s here. Even if you don’t want to make a phone call, you can send a quick email, or even try sending a fax through services like Resist Bot.
Encourage your representatives in Congress to do the following:
- support continued FBI and Senate inquiries into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, including any potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- ensure any candidate to replace Comey enjoys bipartisan support. Only then can the public be sure that the new director is not merely acting on Trump’s behalf.
- demand that the Department of Justice appoint an independent investigator.
The night before the Saturday Night Massacre and Archibald Cox’s firing, he said, “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people [to decide].”
Those words hold as true today as they did in on that night in 1973.