In a presidency that has produced a Muslim ban that wasn’t a Muslim ban, multiple attempts to strip Americans of healthcare, and the use of the US Army’s largest non-nuclear bomb, it would be easy to dismiss President Trump’s most recent decision to fire FBI Director James Comey as par for the course. Yet it is anything but. This move coupled with Republicans’ refusal to appoint a special prosecutor threatens the integrity of America’s system of law enforcement and has the potential to wreak the most long-term destruction of any of this presidency’s actions.
Let’s go back to the beginning. On Tuesday, May 9, the White House announced that President Trump had fired Comey “based on the clear recommendations of both Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.” In Trump’s letter to Comey, he claimed that the former director was “not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” but when acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, he claimed that “Director Comey enjoyed broad support within the FBI and still does to this day.” So there seem to be some flaws with the Department of Justice’s evaluation of the situation, but at least the President is listening to his advisors, right?
Moving forward. Two days after news broke of Comey’s dismissal, Trump announced in an interview with NBC News that he “was going to fire regardless of the recommendation.” I take back the part about Trump at least listening to his advisors. Trump did something Jeff Sessions happened to agree with.
Regardless of who made the decision, Sessions and Trump’s involvement in the FBI’s prominent Russia investigation makes both of them unfit to make this call. Criminals don’t get to choose who decides their guilt. President Trump, on the other hand, will get to do just that when he appoints the new FBI director—an appointment that will likely be accompanied by an instruction slipped under the table (“do what I say or you’re fired”).
The termination is made even more suspicious by its timing. Mere hours before Comey was fired, CNN reported that the FBI had issued subpoenas to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his associates. The New York Times later reported that Comey had requested more resources to put towards the Russia investigation just days before he was forced to vacate his position at the top of the FBI.
Both the two leading decision-makers’ potential involvement in an active FBI investigation and the firing’s taking place so soon after the inquiry began to speed up suggest James Comey’s termination was not done because he was truly unfit to lead the Bureau, but instead because he was investigating Trump and his administration. Russia interfered with our election and showed that it plans to continue meddling when it hacked Emmanuel Macron’s email mere days before the French election. Vladimir Putin cannot be allowed to undermine western democracy by helping unqualified candidates reach office. That is a nonpartisan issue. Firing the leader of an ongoing investigation into his government’s actions at the very least undermines the investigation’s integrity and has the potential to allow Russia and all of their collaborators now present in the Trump administration to get away with election manipulation. By firing Comey, President Trump is failing to uphold his duty to keep elections fair and to hold foreign powers accountable.
If endangering the integrity of western democracy wasn’t enough, Trump’s decision also sets a dangerous legal precedent in our own country. Comey’s firing marks only the second time in the history of the FBI that its director was fired. When William Sessions was fired in 1993, he had lost the respect of much of the Bureau, which, as mentioned above, Comey had not. Presidents cannot be allowed to dismantle law enforcement if it reaches (or nears) a decision they disagree with. As a leader of an apolitical organization, the director of the FBI is deliberately appointed to 10-year terms so that they outlast any one president’s tenure. Trump’s reckless action opens the door for future presidents to treat the FBI as their lapdog.
Before I close, I’ll address the ridiculous argument that Trump fired Comey because of the way he handled the Hillary Clinton investigation during the election. Do people really believe that the same guy who riled up crowds with cries of “lock her up” now sympathizes with his former opponent? It is outrageous to claim that the Republicans suddenly care about the treatment of a woman against whom they have led witch-huts for years. What’s more, if the GOP wasn’t concerned with what would come out of the FBI’s inquiry into Russian interference in the election, it wouldn’t have rejected Democrats’ requests for an independent investigation of Russia’s involvement.
President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is one of his most reckless actions yet. It threatens both the integrity of future elections around the world and the political independence of American law enforcement. Congress cannot allow Trump to appoint his own prosecutors and jury. They must appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. The President needs to know that he is not above the law and will be punished for his actions.