Democracy in crisis

How many targets of FBI investigations are able to fire the investigator?

Only one. And he did it. What does that tell you?

It tells me that he is terrified of the FBI investigation of his relationship to Russia.

Terrified? Really?

Yes. He has already demonstrated repeatedly that (1) he wants us to believe that “Russia is a hoax,” and (2) he responds from his gut, not from his head.

Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey is comparable to the Saturday night massacre, the name given to Richard Nixon’s firing of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus until he found someone (Robert Bork) willing to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to block an investigation of himself in the Watergate scandal.

Yesterday the Republican chairman of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing that drew public attention to the very issue Trump wants to bury—the Russia connection with himself. Today that chairman, Lindsey Graham, announced he was going to investigate Trump’s business relationships with Russia.

The afternoon-long hearing that Sen. Graham chaired yesterday refreshed the country’s memory of the Russia issue, and the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, hinted that there might be something there to investigate. James Comey had already said the FBI was investigating possible “coordination”—I would say collusion—between Russian intelligence and Trump’s campaign.

The former acting attorney general Sally Yates made it clear without saying it yesterday that the White House ignored her warning that the president’s national security advisor Michael Flynn could be compromised by the Russians.

Why would the president ignore such a warning? I do not believe it is just loyalty as many of the talking heads suggest but because he is beholden to Flynn for something. Trump’s so-called loyalty has been clearly demonstrated to be situational. Indeed, he fired Flynn when The Washington Post made the issue public.

But the walls were moving inward, facts closing in on Donald Trump. It’s only surprising to me that neither politicians nor journalists are yet talking about whether the president himself is compromised. This action suggests that he is worried about exactly that.

So tonight Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who was investigating him. Today’s firing solves the problem for the president only if the new director is someone who will close that investigation.

The stated reason for the firing—the letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about Comey’s horrible mishandling of the Hillary Clinton investigation—was an excuse to fire Comey, not a reason. Not if your name is Donald Trump.

Last Wednesday Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee it would have been the “death of the FBI as an institution in America” had he remained silent about possible new evidence in the Hillary Clinton investigation. The future of the FBI and, indeed, the future of democracy tonight are at stake.

This continues a purge of law enforcement officers who have the goods on him. He fired Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York who was investigating him. He fired Sally Yates, the acting attorney general of the United States who was investigating him. And now he’s fired James Comey, the FBI director who was investigating him.

The pattern of this purge is becoming painfully clear. And it should be even to his Republican defenders in Congress. The worst-case scenario is that Trump appoints—and our Republican-controlled Congress confirms—a new FBI director who is willing to turn the agency into a gestapo that will do the president’s bidding. Only Republicans can prevent that result.

So what matters now is who wins the coming confrontation between the president and the self-interested Republicans in Congress who must decide whether to defend themselves or their president.

Our democracy depends on their self interest.

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