Just hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, media outlets learned that federal prosecutors had subpoenaed associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn as part of the probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election.
The subpoenas, which were issued in recent weeks, showed progress in the FBI’s investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Flynn, who was fired for misleading the Vice President and others about his contacts with Russians, was just one figure in that investigation.
Eventually, there could be more. After all, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recommended Comey’s firing, was a Trump campaign surrogate who failed to disclose his own contacts with the Russians during his confirmation hearings. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law and senior advisor, failed to disclose meetings with Russians when applying for security clearances. Current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did billions in business with the Russians as CEO of Exxon-Mobil, even winning an award from the Russian government.
But now that the man who was leading the probe into the Trump campaign has been fired, maybe the investigation itself will go away. And maybe that’s the point. Perhaps Comey was being too thorough in his work. Maybe he turned over one rock too many. Maybe he was getting too close to the truth. Perhaps now we’ll never know.
I do, however, know this: We must appoint a special prosecutor to look into the possible ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Otherwise, this administration will be free to fire any government investigator who uncovers facts they don’t like.
Perhaps more troubling, they will be free to engage in the kind of misdirection that was evident in the firing of James Comey.
Not only did an Attorney General who was himself tied to the Russians recommend Comey’s firing. The President, in his letter to Comey, seemed to take great pains to distance himself from the investigation into his campaign.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation,” Trump wrote in Comey’s dismissal letter, “I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
The judgment Trump refers to here is in the text of a scathing memo written to Attorney General Jeff Sessions by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In that memo, Rosenstein wrote that Comey should be fired because of his mishandling of an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.
Oddly, much of the memo focused on a press conference Comey held to announce the end of the Clinton investigation nearly a year ago.
“The Director was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution,” Rosenstein wrote. “It is not the function of the Director to make such an announcement. At most, the Director should have said the FBI had completed its investigation and presented its findings to federal prosecutors. The Director now defends his decision by asserting that he now believes Attorney General Loretta Lynch had a conflict. But the FBI Director is never empowered to supplant federal prosecutors and assume command of the Justice Department.”
I agree with Rosenstein’s assessment. Comey was wrong to essentially litigate the case against Clinton in the media before declaring her innocent of a crime.
But I don’t believe that Donald Trump is suddenly concerned about that or subsequent actions by Comey concerning the Clinton investigation. Comey’s actions, after all, helped to win the White House for Donald Trump.
That’s why Trump praised Comey for releasing an October letter informing lawmakers that the FBI may have discovered emails that were relevant to the Clinton email investigation.
“That was so bad what happened originally,” Trump said at a Michigan campaign rally just days after Comey’s letter was released. “And it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. It took a lot of guts.”
It also takes a lot of guts to tell the American people you’re firing the man who is investigating your campaign, and to expect us to remain silent about that fact.
Did Comey make mistakes? Yes he did, up to and including his misstatement of some key facts on the Clinton email investigation during his recent testimony before the Senate.
But in my view, this is not about Comey’s mistakes. It’s about his investigation of the Trump campaign.
Firing Comey just as he ramps up that investigation looks to be an abuse of power.
The only way to assure that the American people get the truth they deserve is to curtail that power. Only an independent investigation can do that.
We must appoint a special prosecutor right now.
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