PRESIDENT TRUMP’S firing of FBI Director James B. Comey has rattled Washington. Mr. Trump’s admission that the Russia investigation was a motivating factor has legal scholars debating whether he obstructed justice. Fresh polling shows that the public is confused and wary of the direction Mr. Trump is heading. The Democrats are contemplating a scorched-earth war over the Comey firing, using the Senate’s many opportunities for obstruction to slow an already lethargic legislative process.
All of which points to the need for a new FBI director who is universally recognized as credible and above partisanship. No matter what you think of their past or current service, that list would not include several politicians reportedly under consideration for the job, such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and former congressman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) — or, for that matter, any other current or former elected official of either party.
Replacing the resolutely independent Mr. Comey with someone who has had an “R” next to his or her name would stoke concerns that the president purposefully gutted oversight of his campaign and administration. Even choosing a Democrat would harm the FBI. The suspicion of any partisan inclination at a time when the president’s campaign is under investigation would be toxic for the nation’s faith in a core federal institution in general and its conclusions regarding Russia’s 2016 election hacking in particular.
Even in normal times, elevating a politician to lead the FBI would be contrary to the agency’s professional ethos. No permanent FBI director has ever been a partisan elected official. Rather, each has been drawn from the ranks of law-enforcement agents, lawyers and judges. The agency became a pillar of the American criminal-justice system in part because political cronies were purged and professional standards raised in its early days.
The FBI’s top post must not become one more partisan prize, swinging back and forth between committed Republicans and Democrats as administrations turn over. Congress granted the FBI director a decade-long term to insulate the FBI’s vast police powers from politics. This alone should have given Mr. Trump pause before he took the extraordinary step of firing Mr. Comey after less than half his allotted term. Now that Mr. Trump has made that fateful choice, the president must refrain from doing even more damage — and, if he does not understand, members of Congress must make clear they will not allow him to make a bad situation worse.
“I think it’s now time to pick somebody that comes from within the ranks or has such a reputation that has no political background at all, who can go into the job on day one,” Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Mr. Graham has it just right.