ACLU National Legal Director David Cole explains that Trump has the authority to fire executive branch appointees, “But if he did so, as appears to be the case, because he is concerned that Comey’s investigation of ties between his campaign and Russian officials might have implicated him in wrongdoing, it’s tantamount to an obstruction of justice.” If one carries the Republicans’ argument to its logical conclusion, then any president could fire any investigator with the express reason of discontinuing an investigation. That cannot be right.
Republican ethics guru Richard Painter agrees. He told Rolling Stone: “We cannot tolerate this — for the president to be firing people who are investigating him and his campaign and its collusion with the Russians. It’s a lot worse than Watergate. Watergate was a third-rate burglary. It was purely domestic in nature. This situation involves Russian espionage, and we’ve got to find out who is collaborating.” He explained, “The president has the right to do it — legally he can do it — but it’s an abuse of power. It’s what President Nixon did when he fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, and Nixon had to go through three [Justice Department officials] to do it.”
“Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein is an honest public servant, so we have to believe the rationale he gave for firing Comey.” This argument made sense for a few hours. Then the president said in the Oval Office that he fired Comey because he was doing a bad job, not because of his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email server investigation. Kellyanne Conway also went on TV to assert that the firing had nothing to do with the emails.
The Post reported Wednesday night that Rosenstein threatened to quit because the White House falsely attempted to pin the decision to fire Comey on him. (“Rosenstein threatened to resign after the narrative emerging from the White House on Tuesday evening cast him as a prime mover of the decision to fire Comey and that the president acted only on his recommendation, said the person close to the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.”) So no, Rosenstein doesn’t exonerate Trump; he proves that this was a scheme to tamp down the Russia investigation and lie about it.
The Post’s exhaustive reporting demonstrates that Trump, as many suspected, initiated the firing because he was “angry that Comey would not support his baseless claim that President Barack Obama had his campaign offices wiretapped.” The reporting confirmed, “Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.” Trump’s own spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged that Trump had been contemplating the firing for some time.
“It would be too stupid to fire Comey to stop the Russia investigation.” The theory goes that Trump would know it would cause a ruckus so he’d never do it for that reason. This makes little sense for three reasons. First, we know Trump is illogical and impervious to counsel that he does not like. We already know he acts impetuously and unwisely. Second, if he was too stupid to fire Comey over Russia, it was even more stupid to fire him for the reason Rosenstein provided, since it would also have — and has — created a firestorm. And finally, if Trump fired him for the reasons stated in Rosenstein’s memo, then there would have been no need to rush; a replacement would have been lined up and staff would have been ready to defend this action. The president blindsided his own staff because, it seems, he rushed action out of anger and frustration.
Republicans wound up with Trump as their president by marinating themselves in a stew of half-truths, conspiracy theories and self-delusion. They are doing so again as they desperately grab for excuses and explanations to account for egregiously inappropriate behavior. When the Senate majority leader and the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal sound indistinguishable from Sean Hannity in their specious rationalizations, you know the right is intellectually and morally exhausted.