“It is quite likely that Congress will insist on a special investigator”by Malcolm Rifkind / May 10, 2017 / Leave a comment
President Trump’s letter to James Comey sacking him as Director of the FBI was only slightly longer than one of his regular tweets and hardly more informative. Using rather sinister language Comey was informed that he had been “hereby terminated” and that his removal from office was immediate.
No explanation was given other than that the President had received a recommendation from the Attorney General recommending that Comey go. There were no polite thanks to the director for his previous service though, to be fair, the president did wish him “the best of luck” in his “future endeavors.”
The most bizarre part of the letter was an expression of appreciation that “on three separate occasions” he (the president) had been informed by Comey that he was “not under investigation.” Why this was thought to be relevant is a mystery that says more about Trump’s personal priorities than about his assessment of the national interest.
The White House is attempting to argue that Comey’s dismissal was because of the controversy about how he handled the Clinton e-mails. But that does not wash. When, in the final days of the election campaign, Comey reopened the investigation into Clinton, Trump publicly praised him saying that this decision “took guts” and that “What he did brought back his reputation.”
Nothing that has happened since then on the Clinton issue can possibly justify the instant dismissal that has been imposed. It simply is not credible.
That leaves the ongoing investigation of the possible links that the Trump team had with the Kremlin during the election campaign. This issue has been dismissed by Trump, characteristically, as “fake news” which is quite rich coming from that particular quarter. Is that the most likely explanation? The old saw comes to mind. If it looks like an elephant and it behaves like an elephant it , probably, is an elephant.
Will Trump get away with it? In the short term he will. No one doubts that he has the constitutional right to fire the FBI Director, or anyone else appointed by the president. But he has created a whole new crisis for himself and it is far from certain that he has bipartisan support. On the issue of possible links with the Kremlin there are many Republicans who are as concerned as the Democrats. Senator Richard Burr, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee has said “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination.” Others have made similar comments.
Already comparisons are being made with Richard Nixon’s firing of the independent special investigator during the Watergate controversy in 1973. The New York Times has remarked that “Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him.”
Nixon’s action rebounded on him and led, eventually, to his resignation in the face of an inevitable impeachment. At a later date, he admitted that he had been aware of the cover up and had tried to halt the FBI inquiry.
There is a difference between Nixon and Trump. Nixon was a careful, cautious and calculating politician. He will have known that he was taking a huge risk in firing the special investigator. He, probably, considered that by that stage there was nothing to lose. It was a final throw of the dice. Trump, in comparison, is volatile and impetuous. At this stage there is no evidence (that the rest of us know of) that the FBI investigation would uncover anything worse than careless conversation and contacts between members of the Trump team and various Russians.
By sacking Comey, Trump has turned a problem into a crisis which will not now go away. It is quite likely that Congress will insist on a special investigator and the stakes will have become that much higher.
By acting as he has, the president has not ended the controversy over campaign links with the Kremlin. Nor is it the beginning of the end. It is, merely, the end of the beginning.