Media critic
Lawmakers react after President Trump fired FBI director James Comey on May 9. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)

When you’re the TV network that people rely on for breaking news, it helps to have an analyst or two who can speak with authority when something big happens. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s senior legal analyst, has been covering national legal stuff for the New Yorker since 1993 and has been writing books about high-altitude legal matters for decades.

And he didn’t equivocate one bit when called upon to provide some context for President Trump’s surprise move to fire FBI Director James B. Comey, even after Comey confirmed that his agents were investigating possible coordination between Russia and the Trump presidential campaign. The gist:

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 an 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 Oct. 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.

More from Toobin: “This is a political act when the president is under investigation, when his White House counsel was described yesterday as being told that his national security adviser was subject to blackmail by the Russians and they fired the attorney general a few days later. Now they fired the FBI director. I mean, what kind of country is this?”

The news caught the cable networks by surprise. The Erik Wemple Blog, for example, was watching “The Fox News Specialists” as Eric Bolling & Co. were discussing troop levels in Afghanistan, which qualified as one of the big stories of the day, at the time. “We have some breaking news right now, the producer’s in my ear. James Comey is resigning, is that what you’re telling me?” In no time flat, the show was reporting the dismissal by Trump.

“I think this is an important first step,” said Eboni K. Williams, a member of “The Fox News Specialists” cast. Though Williams said she’d defended Comey, she credited Trump for a move that will “go a long way in rehabbing the credibility of the DOJ.” Media diversity!