Editorials

Is Trump just embarrassing, or now dangerous?

The Observer editorial board

Donald Trump said he had the Russia probe in mind when he fired James Comey.
Donald Trump said he had the Russia probe in mind when he fired James Comey. AP

Donald Trump delivered two thunderbolts in his Thursday night interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. One obliterates the last of any credibility of Trump’s surrogates, and the other raises serious questions about whether the House should initiate impeachment proceedings.

Start with the embarrassing over the potentially criminal: Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other administration figures stood before the American people and said repeatedly that in firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump was merely following the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The president didn’t even know the Justice Department was considering Comey’s ouster, Spicer said, until Rosenstein sent a memo recommending it (with the approval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had supposedly recused himself from the whole affair).

“It was all him,” Spicer said about Rosenstein. “No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.”

Not 48 hours later, Trump told Holt: “What I did is, I was going to fire Comey. My decision.” Holt pressed further and Trump said, “But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”

If Spicer and Sanders can provide such blatantly false information on such a crucial question, how can they ever be believed?

Still, that pales next to the bigger question: Should the House impeach the president based on obstruction of justice?

The White House had claimed that Comey was fired because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and general incompetence. It had nothing to do, officials said, with the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling – and perhaps collaboration with Trump’s campaign – during the 2016 election.

Trump himself admitted to Holt that was not true.

“When I decided to just do it,” he said of Comey’s firing, “I said to myself – I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”

Is that not obstructing justice on its face?

The question about Trump since November has been whether he was merely embarrassing or actually a danger to the country. Now we learn that a president with at least some ties to Russia asked the FBI director in charge of a possibly incriminating investigation whether he can count on his “loyalty” – then fires him when he doesn’t get it. He then tries to “intimidate the witness” by warning there might be damning tapes of their conversations.

Where to from here? Impeachment should be a last resort, not a first, but it is just a charge; the Senate would hear evidence and decide whether to convict. House members must keep that option in mind going forward. Comey declined to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee; Rosenstein could still address the full Senate.

In this polarized era, it’s a certainty Republicans will not hold Trump accountable unless he becomes a severe political liability for them. Voters should make sure their representatives hear this: We want the full truth, and for you to live up to this historic moment, regardless of the president’s party.

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