Saturday, May 13, 2017

Trump's Firing Of Comey Is A BFD

President Trump’s firing of James Comey has created a shit storm in Washington, D.C. that should be lighting everyone’s hair on fire. Comey’s protectors in the media are quick to rush to his defense, both generally, and specifically as to his actions over the past year. But here’s the thing. If you’re James Comey, you don’t rise to some of the most politically sensitive positions in government (U.S. Attorney for the S.D.N.Y. - the pre-eminent U.S. Attorney’s Office in the nation, Deputy Attorney General and FBI Director) without some savvy. The media’s willingness to constantly give him the benefit of the doubt lacks credulity, but at the same time, people need to understand that Democrats who were outraged at his actions during the campaign can also be outraged that his firing appeared to be a pre-textual (and pre-emptive) effort by a sitting President to shut down a criminal investigation into his campaign (and possibly Trump himself). 

It should be said that neither Clinton nor Trump was entitled to preferential treatment by Comey, but by the same token, they should not have been given worse treatment, which is what happened in Hillary’s case. When Comey gave a press conference in July 2016 to announce there would be no recommendation of charges against Hillary, he tiptoed near the line of impropriety - it is rare for an investigation that results in no charges being filed to be announced publicly; however, if you accept that in the public interest it made sense to say something, his editorializing went well beyond his charge and was, naturally, turned into convenient sound bites for political attack ads and ad nauseum coverage on cable news. Comey’s intervention just eleven days before the election was even more egregious, both because it flouted clear DOJ guidelines on making public statements so close to an election, but also because it was done without having facts behind it that might have mattered. 

The media’s willingness to give Comey a pass - bemoaning the “impossible” position he was in - has turned out to be too cute by half. The prudent course for Comey, had he treated Hillary like any other person under investigation but never charged, would have been to keep his mouth shut the entire time. Indeed, prosecutors do this for two primary reasons - (1) so an innocent person’s good name isn’t sullied if he or she is never charged with a crime; and (2) to avoid tainting the investigation. When word leaked after the election (curious timing, no?) that the FBI had an open and active investigation against the Trump campaign dating to last summer, his actions looked even more partisan and indefensible and the media’s defense, laughable. 

So why is that his termination by Trump is so offensive? After all, Comey blurred the lines (or eradicated them entirely) during the campaign. But here’s the thing - with an active investigation into Trump’s associates (and possibly Trump himself) going on, for Trump to remove Comey is precisely the type of malfeasance post-Watergate changes were designed to protect against, including the “wall” between the White House and the Department of Justice as it relates to criminal investigations and the 10-year term (which was established after Watergate in 1976) the idea being the FBI Director should, to some degree, be insulated from the political process. 

If it turns out that Trump removed Comey in an effort to sideline or stop an investigation into his campaign’s contacts with agents of the Russian government or, worse, actively collaborated with them, that itself would be grounds for impeachment; whatever else may be discovered would simply be icing on the cake. There are few agencies in our government more important to the functioning of our nation than the Department of Justice; thus, injecting politics into the DOJ is particularly fraught with peril. One of the reasons an independent counsel makes sense is because the nature of the Trump/Russia investigation is so sensitive and the appearance of a conflict so apparent, someone who cannot be removed by the President or Attorney General is needed. Once upon a time, Republicans believed in this concept; conveniently, it was when some guy named Bill Clinton was President. My, how times have changed. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy 


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