Comey’s firing intensifies need for special prosecutor
Two months ago in this space when news surfaced of secret meetings last fall between Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then a Donald Trump campaign surrogate, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, we called for a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The sudden firing this week of FBI Director James Comey by Trump makes the need for a thorough and independent investigation all the more compelling.
The president, with the support of the U.S. Justice Department, took the highly irregular action Tuesday. The president said the FBI leader’s firing was necessary to restore “public trust and confidence” in the nation’s primary federal law- enforcement agency.
The timing and rationale for Comey’s firing are at once both puzzling and troubling.
The termination is puzzling in part because Trump had in the past sung the praises of Comey, specifically his work on the agency’s investigation last year into the e-mails of Hillary Clinton, the president’s Democratic opponent.
“It took guts for Director Comey to make the move he made,” Trump said late last October, referring to the director’s reopening of the Clinton investigation. Curiously, Comey’s same handling of that email investigation now has become the primary reason Trump and Sessions have given for his dismissal.
Such a change of heart toward compassion for Clinton is hard to swallow given the campaign’s unrelenting call to “Lock Her Up” based on that email investigation.
A BRAZEN FIRING
More troubling, however, is the brazenness of the president’s action. In effect, the nation’s chief executive fired the man in charge of conducting an investigation of campaign leaders and of Trump himself. That investigation made public by Comey in March targeted possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in swaying the 2016 presidential race in Trump’s favor.
As a result, some might consider the firing an example of self-serving abuse of power.
The expediency of the termination also is disturbing. The fact that Comey himself was not personally notified of the firing before it was released to the media underscores once again the signature dictatorial style that so often has been on display throughout Trump’s relatively short presidency.
The suddenness of the action generates even more skepticism in light of Wednesday’s revelations from The New York Times that Comey asked the Justice Department just several days earlier for a “significant increase” in resources for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible Trump campaign involvement in it.
TRANSPARENCY NEEDED NOW
Given the snowballing suspicions, it is now incumbent upon the president to publicly provide a much more clear and detailed explanation for the reasons behind the dismissal and for the haste in which the termination took place.
Then, given the many doubts and questions over the ability of the Justice Department to lead a robust, impartial investigation untainted by politics, a special counsel, investigator or prosecutor should be appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That special prosecutor must be one with impeccable law-enforcement and investigative credentials that leaders of both major political parties could trust to do the job aggressively and impartially.
Many Democratic and some Republican members of Congress are echoing that call for an independent investigation.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, said Comey’s firing “signals a very dark day for the independent nature of the FBI’s work, and further erodes the American people’s trust in our institutions. The time has long since passed to investigate this matter in an independent, nonpartisan way. ’’
Respected Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona likewise said Comey’s firing amid the FBI’s Russia probe is all the more reason to form a special congressional committee to independently investigate the controversy.
Such a probe should also study what exactly Comey had uncovered thus far in the FBI probe and the motives of Trump and Sessions behind the firing.
As long as those and other questions go unanswered, Americans’ trust in this nation’s leading law-enforcement arm and in the institution of the presidency itself will remain sorely undermined.