Because of timing and circumstance, the president’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey has damaged public trust in the White House. The only way to regain that trust is through a competent and thorough investigation that determines whether national security has been compromised through improper influence from Russia and whether the president might have abused his powers by attempting to quash an investigation.
This ought to be conducted by Congress in a bipartisan manner through a special commission.
Some are calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor. In general, we have been skeptical of the use of these. Once in place, they have tended, in the past, to expand the scope of investigations beyond their original charge. They have faced pressure, both politically and from the public, to come up with something, anything, that can be prosecuted. This is why the Deseret News editorial board supported allowing the law authorizing them to expire in 1999.
While their widespread use became unwieldy, there are times when it seems only an independent source can adequately answer vexing questions about the integrity of important governmental institutions. However, when the law expired, so did the mechanism by which a special prosecutor was to be appointed, involving a three-judge panel appointed by the attorney general.
President Bill Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno, drafted regulations as to how future special prosecutors were to be appointed, limiting her own office’s ability to fire one. But those rules have not been tested in court, and they are not backed by statute. Many might doubt the credibility of a prosecutor appointed directly by the White House to investigate the issues at hand.
Therefore, this is a matter Congress must tackle, in the interest of public confidence in government and national security. Doing so credibly might have the added effect of enhancing that institution’s dismal public approval ratings.
President Donald Trump hasn’t helped matters by firing Comey by a letter made public before Comey was contacted. And initial statements that the president was upset over the way Comey handled a probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails stretched credulity in light of how Trump initially praised Comey’s actions.
Since then, the nation has been given other versions of the story. Comey had supposedly lost the confidence of rank-and-file FBI personnel. But acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe told a Senate hearing Thursday this wasn’t true — Comey continues to have broad support from within the agency.
The administration said the firing was prompted by a scathing memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — a memo the president included in the email he sent Comey informing him of his dismissal. But later, the administration said Trump had wanted to fire Comey for a long time before the memo.
Finally, the president has tried to downplay any connection between the firing and an ongoing FBI investigation into possible links between the administration and Russia by saying Comey assured him three times that he was not the target of the probe. There is, of course, no independent way to verify this — unless, as the president hinted through Twitter, recordings of such conversations exist — but McCabe testified that such a thing would violate FBI policy.
Perhaps the firing had no connection to the ongoing investigation. But given the contradictions and the seriousness of any possible links between the administration and Russia, it is clear Americans need answers.
The United States owes much of its standing in the world to its status as a nation ruled by laws, not personalities. Its system of checks and balances ensures no political leader is a immune from scrutiny. For this to remain so, law enforcement agencies and the judicial system must remain independent.
By firing Comey for reasons that remain confused and unclear, Trump has raised questions about whether the FBI will continue to be independent of political influence. This is only the second time in history a president has done such a thing, and we were similarly critical of President Bill Clinton when he fired then-FBI Director William Sessions in 1993.
For the good of the nation, Congress ought to set aside partisan differences to conduct a fair, credible and open investigation that settles the matter of Russian interference one way or the other.