President Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, would be viewed as “suicidal” in any other administration.
“In any normal administration, firing the director of the FBI during an investigation of the administration would be viewed as suicidal,” said Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer for the CIA and the National Security Agency who served under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
“This of course is not a normal administration,” he added. “But no matter what, this will create a firestorm that will disturb even Trump loyalists on the Hill.”
Most Democrats and a handful of Republicans were quick to condemn Trump’s decision to fire Comey, who was in the middle of investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia when he was unexpectedly fired on Tuesday evening.
The dismissal has emboldened calls from both parties to the Justice Department, however, to appoint a special prosecutor to oversee the bureau’s Russia’s investigation. Others are insisting that Comey appear before the appropriate congressional committees to testify about the investigation now that he is a private citizen.
“The president’s actions today make it clear to me that a Special Counsel must be appointed,” Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement Tuesday. He called Trump’s decision “shocking and “deeply disturbing” and argued that appointing a special counsel was “the only way the American people will be able to trust the results of any DOJ investigation.”
“The need for an independent special prosecutor is now crystal clear,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
“Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein now has no choice but to appoint a Special Counsel,” Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a statement. “His integrity, and the integrity of the entire Justice Department, are at stake.”
Others called for a select, bipartisan congressional commission to further the Trump-Russia probe.
“I call on Speaker Paul Ryan to immediately appoint a bipartisan, non-classified, public and transparent commission to investigate the Trump-Russia relationship,” Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen tweeted. “Our democracy is in danger.”
Sessions and Rosenstein said in their statements that they recommended firing Comey because of how he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server. But New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt reported that Sessions had been trying to find an excuse to fire Comey for at least a week.
Comey testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI, about his handling of the Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations. He reiterated that he felt he handled both appropriately, but that it made him “mildly nauseous” to think that his decision to revisit the Clinton email investigation on October 28 might have swayed the outcome of the election.
“At one extreme, the Trump White House might have been irked by Comey’s testimony last week, particularly his discussion of the conduct of the Russian investigation and possibly his feeling ill that the FBI might have played some role in the November election,” Deitz said.
“At the other extreme, it is possible that FBI interviews are being viewed with alarm in the White House, that is, that the circle appears to be closing,” Deitz added. He said he doubts, however, that Comey’s firing “will have any material effect on the Russia-Trump circle investigation.”
“The FBI and DOJ are staffed with serious professionals who are impossible to intimidate,” Deitz said. “If they feel that their investigation is being thwarted in any way, they will leak like hell to people like you.”
Deitz referred to President Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” in which he fired the independent special prosecutor, Archie Cox, who had been appointed by then-Attorney General Elliot Richardson to investigate the events surrounding the Watergate break-in. Nixon initially asked Richardson to dismiss Cox, but he refused to do so and resigned in protest instead, along with then-Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
As in the Watergate scandal, Deitz said, “the firing of Archie Cox, Elliot Richardson, and William Ruckelshaus caused only a temporary blip in the investigation. In fact, it probably energised it.”
Regardless of agents’ leaking, however, whomever Trump appoints to lead the FBI will be able to halt the probe at his or her will. It will be up to Rosenstein — who recommended that Comey be fired — to appoint a special counsel to oversee the investigation. He has said he will not do that until he reviews all of the facts of the case and determines that it would be necessary.
More from Natasha Bertrand:
- Trump’s firing of Comey seems ‘suicidal’ — but it could ‘energize’ the Russia probe
- Sean Spicer calls Sally Yates a ‘political opponent’ in explaining why Trump ignored her advice
- James Clapper gave an intriguing answer when asked about Trump’s business ties to Russia
- Republicans and Democrats basically held 2 separate hearings with Sally Yates and James Clapper
- ‘He could be blackmailed by the Russians’: Sally Yates explains why she warned the White House about Michael Flynn
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