The New York Times reported, “Senior White House and Justice Department officials had been working on building a case against Mr. Comey since at least last week, according to administration officials. Mr. Sessions had been charged with coming up with reasons to fire him, officials said.”
If this is true — that Sessions was charged by President Trump (no one else would have the authority) to figure out reasons to fire Comey — then the question hanging over the presidency is: What was the real reason? If the reason was not that Trump, after all that talk about “locking up” Hillary Clinton and praise last October for Comey’s letter reintroducing the Clinton email investigation into the campaign, suddenly realized Comey had behaved improperly under Justice Department rules, then the rationale is a lie. The letters from Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein are therefore part of a pretext for firing the FBI director engaged in an investigation of the president and his campaign’s conduct.
Former ambassador and White House ethics lawyer Norman Eisen explains, “The reasons given by the president and White House for the firing are clearly pretextual.” Eisen points out that the reasons stated in the letters for firing Comey “are contrary to the president’s and Attorney General Sessions own prior statements, and . . . the firing was contemporaneous with the revelation of the existence of a grand jury and of subpoenas.” He adds, “Clearly, the president is attempting to hamper an investigation that affects him, and those who were and are around him–and brazenly lie about it.”
In other words, if Sessions and Rosenstein cooked up a false reason to get rid of Comey because the president was displeased with Comey’s investigation, this is nothing less than a baldfaced attempt to interfere with a legitimate investigation of the executive branch. The president has the right to fire the FBI director, so this likely would not rise to the level of a criminal offense, according to several legal experts, including former Justice Department officials, with whom I spoke. However, in the constitutional sense, a scheme to mislead the American people and prevent discovery of his possible misconduct violates his oath of office. If he is engaged in such conduct, he is no longer acting to enforce and execute the laws of the United States.
What is critical here is why the president fired Comey and whether he cooked up a cover story to conceal his motivation. The inquiry into what the president, Sessions and Rosenstein were up to cannot be conducted by the executive branch. Either Congress interrogates them, or a prosecutor who cannot be fired by the president or the Justice Department is needed.
To add to the mound of suspicious facts, CNN reported Tuesday night:
Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records, as part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the matter. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Donald Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
The subpoenas represent the first sign of a significant escalation of activity in the FBI’s broader investigation begun last July into possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia. The subpoenas issued in recent weeks by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, were received by associates who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was forced out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, according to the people familiar with the investigation.
We do not know whether this played any role in Comey’s firing.
Using one law enforcement body (or set of individuals) to stop another from investigating presidential wrongdoing was the nub of Watergate and the ensuing impeachment proceedings. We do not know whether that is what is at issue here, but Congress has no alternative but to determine why the president acted and why he acted now. That should entail questioning under oath of any persons aware of or involved in the firing process and ultimately an accounting by the president of his own actions.
Every single Republican must make a decision: Insist on full-throated, independent investigation of the firing, or be party to a possible cover-up. Every candidate for office in 2018 must be asked a question: If it is determined that Trump fired Comey to interfere with the Russia probe, would that representative vote for impeachment/senator vote to convict? Yes, it really has come to that.