He is trashing the norms of democracyby Desmond King / May 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Expecting to serve 10 years in the job, James Comey, head of the FBI, was despatched after three. Even discounting the Trumpian theatrics, this was a dramatic moment, because the FBI has been investigating contacts between the president’s campaign team and the Russians, whom intelligence agencies have concluded did meddle in last November’s election, for the benefit of Trump. Also, an alleged request for extra resources for the FBI probe had just been made, which hardly suggests an investigation that was going nowhere. The president, in other words, can reasonably be painted as sacking the policeman who was probing his electoral win.
But the situation did not—at least not immediately—provoke a constitutional crisis. For one thing, there is no ambiguity in the legal position: the president can dismiss any federal employee. Presidential power has been built over the decades, with Trump’s predecessors—Barack Obama and George W Bush—relying heavily on direct orders. Trump had already sacked Acting Attorney General Sally Yates in January for questioning his “Muslim ban.” More generally, he has flexed the muscle of his office. Notoriously, he refuses to release his tax returns because he doesn’t technically have to; he has taken a limited view of potential conflicts of interest between his presidential role and previous business activities; and, he questions how federal law applies to him as the executive in chief, disdaining the spirit of the rule of law.
It is all of a piece with a febrile environment, in which the informal protocols of democracy are being tra…