Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"No Shoes Left to Drop," "Dark and Perilous Moment": Commentary on Trump's Firing of James Comey

Commentary worth reading (so it seems to me) about Trump's firing of James Comey:

News reports back up the suggestion that Trump was motivated by anger at the FBI’s pursuit of an investigation into his Russia ties. Sources told Politico that Trump's rage at the ongoing investigation would cause him to badger staffers into publicly defending him and scream at television clips that discussed the scandal. He was particularly incensed when Comey testified to the Senate that the FBI was investigating his presidential campaign, and was angered by Comey’s refusal to back up Trump’s unproved allegation that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The whole country may end up more than "mildly nauseous" if a senior law enforcement official is right when he translates into cop terms President Trump’s firing of James Comey
"Basically [Trump] is saying, 'I'm firing Comey for doing the things that got me elected because I'm afraid people are going to find out who did the rest of the things to get me elected,'" the official said.

On March 20, Comey appeared before the House Intelligence Committee and took the unusual step of publicly disclosing that his bureau had been investigating interactions between Trump associates and Russians since last July. This was a historic moment. First Comey said Trump's allegation that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him in Trump Tower was complete bunk. Then he noted the bureau had been conducting a top-secret counterintelligence operation targeting people close to Trump. So the FBI chief was calling the president a liar and saying his associates were being probed. He was a threat to Trump and the White House. 
It's hard to envision a more important and sensitive investigation than one focused on people linked to a president or one that looks at how Vladimir Putin covertly intervened in an American election to benefit the eventual winner. And now Trump has potentially upended these inquiries by firing the guy in charge. This is reminiscent of when President Richard Nixon dismissed Archibald Cox, the special Watergate prosecutor who was getting too close to the truth. Nixon canned Cox rather than cooperating with his investigation.

We don't know why Trump changed his mind about Comey and suddenly decided he had to go, but it's a fair assumption that he’s concerned about the Russia investigation. On Tuesday, the Senate Intelligence Committee requested documents from the Treasury Department about the Trump team’s financial ties to Russia. And Tuesday night CNN reported that a grand jury had issued subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn. This story's getting hotter by the minute.

Josh Marshall

In criminal trials there are certain actions defendants can take from which judges will tell juries they can infer guilt. In a political context, this is one of those moments. We are now hearing word from White House officials that the White House is stunned at the backlash at Comey's firing. Didn’t Democrats think he was doing a bad job? We're even hearing commentators speculate that maybe this may have been a huge miscalculation. The White House didn't realize how big a deal this was. In the final analysis I think this will be judged a major miscalculation – just not in the sense they mean. Frankly, no one is that naive. It doesn't wash. 
There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It's speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein. 
This is a very dark and perilous moment.

Memo aside, this is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to abort an ongoing investigation. Needless to say, such behavior does not suggest innocence. But that is hardly the point. What is most shocking is that by attacking an independent investigation into executive malfeasance, Trump promises to complete the task that the Russians started. 
Even if innocent of collusion, Trump has done something almost as bad – he has undermined investigative independence, a mainstay of rule-based governance. The Russians need no longer expend their energies trying to subvert the integrity of our political system. Now they have our president to do that job.

At a time like this, it is important to express things plainly. On Tuesday evening, Donald Trump acted like a despot. Without warning or provocation, he summarily fired the independent-minded director of the F.B.I., James Comey. Comey had been overseeing an investigation into whether there was any collusion between Trump’s Presidential campaign and the government of Russia. With Comey out of the way, Trump can now pick his own man (or woman) to run the Bureau, and this person will have the authority to close down that investigation. 
That is what has happened. It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Jeffrey Toobin via Media Matters:

WOLF BLITZER (HOST): Jeffrey, this is an extraordinary moment in American history. 
JEFFREY TOOBIN: You bet it is, Wolf. And it's a grotesque abuse of power by the president of the United States. This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies. That when there is a investigation that reaches near the president of the United States, or the leader of a non-democracy, they fire the people who are in charge of the investigation. I have not seen anything like this since October 20, 1973, when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor. This is something that is not within the American political tradition. That firing led indirectly but certainly to the resignation of President Nixon. And this is very much in this tradition. This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is something that is completely outside how American law is supposed to work. 

It is natural to compare the dismissal of Cox, and the refusal by Richardson and Ruckelshaus to do the deed, to the firing of James Comey, the F.B.I. director, carried out by Trump’s Attorney General, the all-too-willing Jeff Sessions, if only because the dismissals, in both cases, were accompanied by a powerful odor: of something being covered up, along with a fear that what Americans treasure most—the values contained in the Constitution, the idea that America is indeed a nation of laws—were being undermined by the very people entrusted with protecting those values. In the Nixon era, the corruption, encouraged by the White House, was aimed at perceived enemies of the Administration. In a time so short that it doesn’t quite deserve to be called the Trump era, the current corruption includes possible attempts by a foreign power, Russia, to influence and subvert an American election. The odor this time includes the curious behavior of Trump and others in reacting to reliable information that General Michael Flynn, Trump’s national-security adviser, had lied about his preĆ«lection contacts with the Russians. Was Comey getting close to something more? That’s a natural suspicion in a time when conspiracy theories, many of them promoted by Trump and his followers, have become so commonplace. 
But the situation today is far more problematic and dangerous than the one facing the nation forty-four years ago. Nixon, for all his misdeeds, understood the Presidency, and the demands of his job. He was fascinated by history, and the geopolitics of his world, and understood both. In foreign policy, if he didn’t always act wisely, he acted consistently; it’s inconceivable that he would have found himself in the incoherent foreign-policy muddle in which Trump has put himself in the case of North Korea, with its threatening nuclear stockpile, and South Korea, which has just elected a new leader who doesn’t want a war.

This is a tense and uncertain time in the nation's history. The president of the United States, who is no more above the law than any other citizen, has now decisively crippled the F.B.I.'s ability to carry out an investigation of him and his associates. There is no guarantee that Mr. Comey's replacement, who will be chosen by Mr. Trump, will continue that investigation; in fact, there are already hints to the contrary. 
The obvious historical parallel to Mr. Trump's action was the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973, when President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, prompting the principled resignations of the attorney general and his deputy. But now, there is no special prosecutor in place to determine whether the public trust has been violated, and whether the presidency was effectively stolen by a hostile foreign power. For that reason, the country has reached an even more perilous moment.

For politicians on the left and right, May 9, 2017, should be a day of reckoning. There are no shoes left to drop.

Donald Trump's contempt for the American system of governance with its checks and balances, for the media, for the truth itself, is not unique to him: it is now built right into the Republican party and its base. They will not act to save American democracy. They will do what they have become accustomed to doing — promoting their own self-interest and that of their 1% overlords at the expense of the nation.

They have exhibited nothing but contempt for the nation, for American democracy, for the American people. Witness their behavior with the healthcare situation. We are on the verge of seeing an undemocratic coup establish itself with ruthless power, something that can happen very quickly as a dictatorship is made. 

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