The story begins with a lie, as so many Donald Trump stories do. And while it’s hard to determine Trump’s biggest lie — cheering Muslims, Obama’s wiretapping, millions voting illegally — this one may be his least believable. And it also may be his most harmful — to him and to the country.
Not even the most ardent Trumpist could fall for the claim that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey because he had been unfair to the woman Trump called Crooked Hillary. Just go to the tape. You can’t miss Trump’s repeated praise of Comey’s bungled handling of the Clinton email investigation.
And because no one could possibly believe Trump’s obvious lie, he has forced us to believe, or at least consider, the obvious alternative — that Trump fired Comey because the FBI director was getting too close in his pursuit of the case that Trump aides may have colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.
Because what else could it be?
You don’t know with Trump, of course. It could be anything or a lot of things. But what we do know is that a president fired the FBI director in the course of being investigated by the FBI. And we do know that whoever Trump chooses to replace Comey will have no more credibility than Trump does.
This is not what is supposed to happen in our country. And even though Trump has shown only a passing interest in democratic norms and an unsettling fondness for authoritarians, this is still America, which may explain why Comey was simply fired and not poisoned. But for those who worried that Trump’s presidency would be a threat to the American democratic project, this is exactly the kind of abuse of power they had feared.
I wasn’t sure that Trump still had the ability to shock us, but he apparently does. And for Trump, this could be one shock too many. Democrats are calling — well, howling is closer to the truth — for an independent prosecutor. And Republicans, in the day after their embarrassing showing at the Sally Yates hearing, may be forced to cave. With Trump’s credibility officially shot, everyone’s credibility is now on the line.
It was Trump who tweeted this on Monday: “The Russia-Trump collusion is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer charade end?” The next day, Trump fired the leader of the, uh, charade. There is no other way to understand this. But in case we missed anything, Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders was out there saying it was time to end the Russia investigation. And Politico was reporting that Trump would yell at the TV for the cable networks’ continuing coverage of possible collusion.
The firing takes us back, of course, to Nixon and to the Saturday Night Massacre, but there are differences. As former Reagan aide Bruce Bartlett once said, “Take Nixon in the deepest days of his Watergate paranoia, subtract 50 IQ points, add Twitter, and you have Trump today.”
Nixon was desperate. Special prosecutor Archibald Cox was ready to subpoena the Nixon tapes. But when Nixon wanted Cox fired, Attorney General Elliott Richardson refused. And the deputy attorney general refused. It was finally left — in one of history’s most satisfying footnotes — to then Solicitor General Robert Bork to do the dirty work.
Today, Trump has Jeff Sessions as his attorney general. Sessions, who has already had to recuse himself in the Russia investigation, reportedly helped cook up the Clinton email rationale. And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, confirmed just two weeks ago, basically planted the evidence. In double-quick time, the deputy wrote up a short treatise on Comey’s considerable mishandling of the Clinton emails and, in doing so, challenged those who had praised Rosenstein’s reputation for fairmindedness.
How could anyone have done a thorough investigation into Comey in two weeks? After all, it took Trump 18 days to fire Michael Flynn after Yates had told the White House that he could possibly be subject to blackmail by the Russians.
That’s the truth Republicans must now face. If you didn’t think Trump was out of control before, when he was simply blasting federal judges and trying to ban Muslims and calling Obama a sick and bad man, what can you think now? For Republicans, the question is where is today’s Howard Baker or today’s Elliott Richardson. Are they all in the same hidey hole with Cory Gardner as the chaos plays out all around them?
You can’t ignore the fact Trump was so inept in dismissing the FBI director that he gave away the game in the second paragraph of his bizarre letter to Comey: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.”
Trump never mentioned Clinton in his letter, of course. Instead, there was Trump’s insistence — also not very credible — that Comey had cleared him. Do you think Trump is in the clear in the Russia investigation? CNN has reported that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas of Flynn business associates. And that’s just for starters.
Now that Comey has been fired, that favorite Watergate word — cover-up — is on everyone’s lips. And, in firing Comey, Trump has ensured that the calls for a special prosecutor will grow so loud that it will be hard for America’s most prominent TV news addict to hear anything else.
Photo courtesy of FBI, via Flickr: Creative Commons