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Lawfare: “The Nightmare Scenario: Trump Fires Comey, the One Man Who Would Stand Up to Him”

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Benjamin Wittes and Susan Hennessey write at Lawfare:

Make no mistake: The firing of James Comey as FBI director is a stunning event. It is a profoundly dangerous thing—a move that puts the Trump-Russia investigation in immediate jeopardy and removes from the investigative hierarchy the one senior official whom President Trump did not appoint and one who is known to stand up to power. One of the biggest dangers of Comey’s firing is that Trump might actually get away with it, ironically, because of Comey’s unpopularity among Democrats and on the political left.

We warned about this danger immediately after the election.

On November 10, we wrote that that Trump’s firing of Comey would be a “a clear bellwether to both the national security and civil libertarian communities that things are going terribly wrong.” At the time we wrote those words, Comey was deeply unpopular with both the Left, which blamed Hillary Clinton’s defeat on his eleventh hour letter to Congress, and the Right, which criticized his decision to recommend that Clinton not be charged over her handling of government emails. Whatever the merit of Comey’s actions during the campaign, the fact that he managed to anger both sides of the political spectrum demonstrated his storied political independence. And that political independence, we argued, would serve as a critical check against any efforts on the part of President Trump to trample the rule of law.

The FBI Director serves a ten-year term precisely in order to insulate against the whims of a President who does not like what—or whom—the FBI is investigating. While the President has legal authority to fire an FBI director, the fact that Trump has done so under circumstances of an active FBI investigation of the President’s own campaign violates profoundly important norms of an independent, non-political FBI. The situation has no parallel with the only previous FBI director to be removed by a president: President Clinton’s firing of William Sessions, whose ethical misconduct was so extensive that it resulted in a six-month Justice Department investigation an a blistering 161-page report detailing his illicit activities, including flagrant misuse of public funds. Trump’s firing Comey at a time when Comey is investigating Russian intervention in the election on Trump’s behalf and the specific conduct of a number of people close to Trump undermines the credibility of his own presidency. And it deeply threatens the integrity of and public confidence in ongoing law enforcement and intelligence operations.

Trump’s offered rationale does nothing to assuage the fears we expressed in November regarding the meaning of this event.

In announcing Comey’s dismissal, the White House released a package of documents which included a statement from Press Secretary Sean Spicer and letters from President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. All four documents are available here.

The first three statements by Spicer, Trump, and Sessions all refer back to the final letter from Rosenstein, which articulates substantively the reasoning behind Comey’s dismissal. Spicer’s press release states that President Trump “acted based on the clear recommendations” of both Rosenstein and Sessions and that a search for a new FBI Director will start “immediately.” Likewise, Sessions’ letter refers the President to the memorandum by Rosenstein. Trump’s letter dismissing Comey, for its part, reiterates that he is acting on the recommendation of both Sessions and Rosenstein, declaring: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

Trump’s clumsy attempt to deny that his own conduct is at issue in the FBI’s inquiry is foolish. Comey testified just the other day that the FBI is “conducting an investigation to understand whether there was any coordination between the Russian efforts and anybody associated with the Trump campaign.”  Splitting hairs over whether this does or does not mean that Trump is “under investigation” cannot obscure the fact that Trump just fired someone who is leading an investigation that deals with whether his aides, campaign, and White House staff had improper dealings with adversary foreign intelligence service.

Rosenstein’s memorandum bears . . .

Continue reading.

Also read this Kevin Drum post.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 May 2017 at 6:44 pm

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