Trump firing of Comey smells of attempted obstruction of justice

President-elect Donald Trump on his thank you tour in Des Moines, Iowa, on Dec. 8. 2016 l Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Donald Trump really didn’t like the ongoing investigation of ties between Russia and his 2016 campaign and last night he acted by firing FBI Director James Comey.

Trump did so by sending his personal bodyguard to the FBI headquarters with a letter in a manila folder, a touch that highlighted how personally Trump took the probe.

And Trump gave a master class in chutzpah by claiming that FBI Director James Comey was fired because in late October Comey announced potential problems with Clinton emails. Trump praised Comey at the time and made it a centerpiece of the final 10 days of the campaign. That late breaking news took over the media environment, led to a sudden drop in Clinton’s national lead and helped Trump win.

Since being elected, Trump has angrily tweeted about the Russia probe and it clearly rankled him. He wanted it to go away.

The Intelligence Community issued an unclassified version of a classified report in early January 2017 that concluded that Russian acts were meant to help Trump win.

This week we learned that Trump was warned that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his ties to Russia. Trump was told that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail but he didn’t fire Flynn until after the Washington Post published a story about it.

Last night after the firing, CNN broke the news that there have been grand jury subpoenas issued to Flynn’s business associates. This is part of a broader investigation of corruption and collusion.

We also learned that, despite the transparently phony reason Trump gave for firing Comey, the president had decided to fire him more than a week ago and was looking for a rationale. And, as Politico reported, Trump was really angry.

He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear and demanded they speak out for him. He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.

Now, that doesn’t sound like someone who wanted an FBI Director who would investigate without fear or favor, does it?

And that is why we need a Special Counsel or Independent Commission

This investigation needs to be moved out of the line of Trump’s ability to remove the investigation. And while the Senate and House can and should continue its probes, like the Iran-contra scandal, there needs to be an investigation led by someone who is not elected and thus not vulnerable to political pressures.

Thus it was positive to hear Maine Senator Angus King and Arizona Senator John McCain, among others, call for an independent probe.

But for Senator Susan Collins to sound untroubled and to point to Trump’s rationale as the actual reason for the firing seems remarkably naive at best. It was also factually wrong for her statement to say, “Any suggestion that today’s announcement is somehow an effort to stop the FBI’s investigation of Russia’s attempt to influence the election last fall is misplaced.” Evidence points to Trump making that effort.

Now, Collins was right that, “The President did not fire the entire FBI; he fired the director.” And indeed the probe will go on. But Trump’s anger at the investigation had long been clear and was behind his shocking decision to fire Comey.

Collins’ statement stood in stark contrast to the response of the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr (R-NC), who said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning” of the firing.

Citizens’ responses right now will affect whether Trump’s firing of the FBI director, so reminiscent of Nixon in Watergate, will be a news blip without consequence or lead to what should have happened months ago.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.