The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
MOBILE, Ala. — The political intrigue surrounding President Donald J. Trump and his fascination with Russia’s dictator Vladimir Putin and Russian money hit a new benchmark on Tuesday when the president announced the firing of F.B.I. director James B. Comey.
The comparisons to President Richard M. Nixon’s firing of special prosecutor Archibald Cox at the height of the Watergate scandal began almost immediately, although there are key differences.
Chief among them is that Cox had credibility on both sides of the political aisle and was doing the job he was charged with. Comey, on the other hand, had lost credibility on both sides of the political aisle and should have been fired long before Tuesday.
While the innuendo in Trump’s announcement, based on recommendations from tainted Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his brand new second in command, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, hint at a connection to Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, nobody in Washington or around the country believes that’s the real reason Comey was fired.
The speculation is that Comey was getting close to uncovering evidence of collusion with the Russians in the election between Trump campaign officials — and perhaps on the part of the president himself. That in fact may not be the case at all. It is possible that Sessions, who is supposed to be recused from any involvement in the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the election, could have found out that Comey through associates was responsible for leaks of information about Russia and Trump associates to the Washington Post.
In a news break for CNN on Tuesday, based on a leak that could have come from Comey’s associates, it was reported just hours before Comey was fired that federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn “seeking business records.”
The cable news outlet that has often been called “fake news” by Mr. Trump, which has screwed up its share of stories over the past couple of decades since it was bought out by Time Inc. and forced the retirement of its creator Ted Turner, indicated that this was “part of the ongoing probe of Russian meddling in last year’s election.” But that may in fact be nothing more than a general description.
There are several investigations going on here, and most experts, including James R. Clapper, who testified on Monday before the Senate subcommittee investigating the matter, reiterated his assertion that there is no evidence of collusion by Trump or his associates in tainting the election.
There is evidence of Trump campaign officials having contact with the Russians, including Flynn and Sessions. But so far there is no smoking gun that ties Trump to collaborating with the Russians in their attempt to change the outcome of the election.
If a special prosecutor were to be appointed and did prove that, Mr. Trump would be out of the White House in a New York minute. There would be grounds for impeachment.
Why would Trump and Sessions care about Flynn? He was fired as national security advisor after it was learned he did have conversations with the Russians about the possibility of lifting sanctions and he clearly faces investigations for not registering as a foreign agent and for not reporting income from that in an accurate and timely manner. He is a useful fall guy for Trump, so chances are Comey’s firing had nothing to do with that.
Many have speculated that Flynn has information about Trump’s ties to Russia and that he is willing to talk. But so far no investigators have seen anything worthy of granting him immunity from prosecution for turning over state’s evidence. He was clearly a bad actor who should be charged.
Is it possible Trump knew this and allowed it to happen? Yes. But it is also possible Trump is so clueless about so many things that he did not know at all. And let’s not forget. Mr. Trump became famous for saying “You’re Fired” on TV. He likes to fire people and he doesn’t care what the press thinks about it.
Understand that Mr. Rosenstein has just been confirmed by the Senate in his job as deputy attorney general, second in command to Sessions, and is a career prosecutor who even Sally Yates in her testimony to the Senate subcommittee on Monday declined to criticize him for his recommendation. The director of the F.B.I. reports to him, not the AG. It came in an odd moment in the hearing and went unnoted by any news organization that I saw. But if anyone were to ask White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer about it, it could provide Trump even more cover in taking Rosenstein’s advice to fire Comey.
I suspect Mr. Rosenstein, like many at the F.B.I. and in the Justice Department, was appalled all along about how Comey handled public announcements in his job, which went against long-standing U.S. Justice Department practices. Certainly the July public statements which chastised Hillary Clinton for using a private server yet releasing her from any wrongdoing were out of the ordinary, as was the October statement that some believe played a role in costing Hillary Clinton the election. We now know that Comey’s public statements were not only ill-advised, they were full of inaccuracies, which Comey recently had to come back and correct for the record.
By Thursday morning, some news organizations were reporting that it was Mr. Trump’s idea and Rosenstein was asked to write the memo by the president. After Comey’s firing Tuesday night, White House officials said the president acted on the recommendation of Rosenstein. ABC News reported that Rosenstein was so upset with the White House for pinning the firing of FBI Director James Comey on him Wednesday that he was on the verge of resigning.
I have never been impressed with Comey, and say he deserved to be fired. President Obama should have done the deed before he left office, but you know these honorable Democrats. They will go out of their way to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or political hackery. Comey was considered a merit hire. But if you simply take a look at his Wikipedia page, you also may come away with doubts.
In his career Comey had ties to weapons manufacturers, having worked as General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Lockheed Martin out of Bethesda, Maryland and later Bridgewater. He was involved in investigating the Clinton’s before, as deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee in the infamous Whitewater inquiry that dragged on for years and led to impeachment charges against President Bill Clinton for things totally unrelated to the initial complaint about an allegedly corrupt real estate deal. Clinton was exhonerated in a way. He was not conficted and removed from office.
Even more telling, as deputy attorney general in the Bush administration in 2005, Comey endorsed torture by issuing a memorandum approving the use of 13 enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, for use by the CIA when questioning terror suspects. He also became known for controversial comments about Polish people being ”accomplices of Germany” and “as responsible for the Holocaust as Germans.”
So this guy was F.B.I. director, why? Good riddance!
So what about the timing of Trump’s announcement? There must be something wrong about that, critics say. Surely Trump and Sessions must have known it would cause a political and media storm. But it fits a pattern of Trump making hasty decisions based on his impressions. Just wait until the next crazy disclosure bumps this off the front page and diverts the media and public attention on to something else.
In all the furor over Comey’s firing, no one much noticed another story in the news today making it clear that Sessions is busy down on the Mexican border, still trying to fight the Reagan “war on drugs.”
It came to light Wednesday that Comey informed members of Congress that he would be asking the Justice Department to make additional resources available, mainly for more staff, in the Russia probe, according to an anonymous leak to Reuters.
Late in the day on Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Trump was angry because of Comey’s public rebuttal and disloyalty of his claim of being wiretapped by former President Obama.
If we are ever going to truly get to the bottom of this business of Russia “meddling” in the U.S. election — or whether Trump has corrupt ties to Russian mob money, which may in fact be a totally separate matter — it will take a special prosecutor and an independent investigative panel. And that must be endorsed by Republicans as well as Democrats.
There was some movement in that direction on Tuesday, when Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and among the most hawkish members of Congress on Russia, issued a statement saying he was “disappointed in the president’s decision” and that it bolstered the case “for a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is leading the most active congressional investigation on Russia, issued a statement saying the president’s decision “further confuses an already difficult investigation by our committee.”
“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination,” Burr said. He indicated that Comey had been “more forthcoming with information” than any of his predecessors.
The Democratic vice chairman of the Senate panel, Mark Warner of Virginia, said ithat Mr. Comey’s firing “means the Senate Intelligence investigation has to redouble its efforts, has to speed up its timeline, because we’ve got real questions about the rule of law.”
I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but of course there is absolutely no guarantee even that will ferret out the truth. It will take months if not years, and then, remember previous special investigations such as Whitewater and the Warren Commission? These things rarely satisfy the American people that all the true facts came to light, which is one reason I have been skeptical all along that anything will come of this investigation.
The one successful example in can think of in our history was the Pecora Commission began in 1932 by the United States Senate Committee on Banking and Currency to investigate the causes of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The hearings galvanized broad public support for new banking and securities laws. Congress passed the Glass–Steagall Banking Act of 1933 to separate commercial and investment banking, the Securities Act of 1933 to set penalties for filing false information about stock offerings, and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, which formed the SEC, to regulate the stock exchanges.
Just as Comey’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails led to no charges, it is likely that any investigation of Trump will go the same way. There is not much reason to put any confidence into the House investigation, tainted as it is by Republican politics. Maybe there is a little more hope for the Senate investigation, but not much. They only have like two full-time staffers on it. There have been credible Congressional investigations before.
So it is great fun to compare this to Watergate on Facebook, and Democrats are having a ball hoping this will lead to Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. All I am saying is I will believe it when I see it.
Of course people talking on Facebook about the appointement of a special prosecutor to investigate Alabama Governor Robert Bentley didn’t have much faith that a special prosecutor would get to the bottom of his case and get rid of him. They turned out to be wrong about that.
Maybe the U.S. Senate could find someone like special prosecutor Ellen Brooks, although even she let Bentley off the hook with only two misdemeanor charges and no jail time. At least he never drew a salary and will have no retirement.
In Trump’s case, the sharks are circling and want blood in the water. #LockHimUp.
We are heading back to Washington, D.C. in two weeks. You can help pay for the trip and the journalism we can produce from there.
Order your Watchdog Press products here at CafePress.com.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.