Editorials

With Comey firing, day of reckoning has arrived

The Observer editorial board

People protest Wednesday in front of the White House to demand the investigation of President Donald Trump after he fired FBI Director James Comey.
People protest Wednesday in front of the White House to demand the investigation of President Donald Trump after he fired FBI Director James Comey. TNS

A day after a top former Justice Department and intelligence official told Congress President Trump had retained a national security adviser susceptible to Russian blackmail for 18 days after red flags had been raised, Trump fired the man in charge of an investigation that could reach into the White House.

Each of those acts puts the country at risk. They are even more astounding given that we still don’t know how vulnerable we remain to Russia; that Trump, in the letter announcing the firing of FBI Director James Comey, essentially confessed to interfering in the investigation to find out; and that the attorney general had to recuse himself because of dishonesty during his confirmation hearings. It’s also astonishing that Comey was fired days after he asked for more resources for his investigation into Russian interference in the election.

Enough.

No more handwringing. No more slow-walking. No more party before country.

A few things must happen immediately: an independent commission must be launched or a special counsel appointed, and a new FBI director above reproach and politics must be named.

It’s no coincidence the kind of civil servant we need – highly skilled, independent, tough, served under Democratic and Republican administrations – was also fired by Trump after she refused to sign onto the president’s unconstitutional travel ban when she was acting attorney general. We know we won’t get Sally Yates, but we can and should get someone in her mold. That will mitigate the damage done by Trump’s latest dangerous act.

Comey’s performance had been criticized by many, and with good reason. His handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe was the catalyst for the chaos we are experiencing. He erred by publicly going into detail about the case, erred further by intervening in the election’s final days, and worsened matters by refusing to learn from his mistakes, proudly telling Congress he wouldn’t change a thing.

But the timing of and the phony justification for the firing has the stench of an abuse of power that, if not Nixonian, is well on its way to reaching those lows. Such abuse of power not only imperils an important investigation, it undermines public confidence in our system of checks and balances.

This can’t stand. Congress must be an unrelenting check against Trump’s recklessness. Those checks and balances only work if officials earnestly discharge their constitutional duties.

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement.

What’s happened is more than troubling. It’s a demand for action from those we’ve given the ultimate responsibility to protect our democracy. Right now, that’s primarily Republicans in the Senate. They have to approve a new FBI head and ensure a real independent investigation.

We are dealing with an administration that deems the Russia probe “absurd” and says “it’s time to move on.” The White House also allegedly tried to pressure the FBI to focus more on leaks than possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and forced out the FBI director shortly after the agency began issuing subpoenas.

No more pretty words about patriotism.

No more being “troubled.”

The time to act is now.

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