Senator Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii) announced (on Twitter of course) that we are in “a full fledged constitutional crisis” as a result of Donald Trump’s decision to dismiss James Comey as Director of the FBI. Senator Schatz should really get a grip. James Comey botched the entire Clinton e-mail non-investigation from the very beginning. When, on last July 5th, Comey held a press conference and announced that Clinton was extremely careless in her handling of classified information, but that he would not recommend prosecution to AG Loretta Lynch, he was so far out of bounds he should have been fired on the spot by then President Obama.
The decision whether or not to prosecute was not his to make; it was a decision for his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch. When he said that he found no evidence that Clinton specifically intended to violate the law, in effect he rewrote the statute, which only required “gross negligence.” When he asserted that no reasonable prosecutor would take the case, not only was he obviously incorrect, he implied that anyone who disagreed with him was unreasonable. Moreover, by his statement he made the case for reasonable doubt, thus destroying any chance for a conviction.
And then he thrust himself onto center stage once again when he re-opened the case a few days before the election. Even worse, at his original press conference on July 5, he subjected Hillary Clinton to a public tongue lashing—and then proclaimed her innocent. Perhaps the Mr. Comey is unaware that citizens in the U.S. are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. And that law enforcement has no business delivering rebukes to innocent citizens.
So no matter how you slice it, Comey abused his office; either by using his post to publicly lecture an innocent citizen, or by re-writing the statute to allow Clinton to dodge a bullet. Either way, this is not the behavior we should either expect or tolerate from the Director of the FBI. It doesn’t matter if Comey thought he was in an untenable position. That goes with the territory, and if he couldn’t handle it, he could have resigned. Similarly, it simply doesn’t matter if his motives were pure. That is why we have laws, policies and procedures to govern the behavior of law enforcement officials, who are entrusted with awesome power in the U.S. legal system.
Which is not to say that Donald Trump ordered the dismissal for the right reasons. He may very well have ordered it because he, or a senior (or past) Trump official, faces legal jeopardy as a result of the FBI investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the U.S. Presidential election. But that is just conjecture at this point. The innocent before guilty standard still applies.
It should go without saying that Russian intelligence has been in the business of attempting to influence U.S. politics, policy and elections more or less continuously for at least 50 years. Which is to say that the real question is whether Trump or senior staffers used, or attempted to use, their positions to help Russia for their own benefit at the expense of the U.S. The correct term for that is Treason.
It is far more likely that the Russian interference was designed to weaken Americans’ trust in the fairness and stability of American political institutions. If so, the gambit worked splendidly for Moscow—in part because, to borrow Lenin’s phrase, the useful idiots of “The Resistance” are busy making Moscow’s case. And in case anyone missed it, Hillary Clinton recently announced she was part of said Resistance.
That said, the body politic certainly has a right to know the facts of the matter, so far as they can be determined. And there is a way to go about doing so that would also provide a useful corrective to the ongoing deterioration of political discourse in America. And it is not another Special Prosecutor. Instead, the Senate should establish a Select Committee, with subpoena power, to look into the matter once and for all. The Select Committee should be perfectly willing to subpoena relevant documents, and question witnesses under oath, including intelligence officials, with knowledge of the matter.
If the Committee finds evidence of treason by staffers and campaign aides, then the case should be turned over for prosecution. Evidence of treason by Trump would present a prima facie case for impeachment. And if any witness is found to have lied under oath, he should be prosecuted. It is about time that perjury is taken seriously. James Clapper, please take note.
Handling the matter this way would entail two advantages. First, this forum would require the participants to take political responsibility for their charges and counter-charges. Second, instead of acting as the President’s whipping boy, the Congress would actually have to reassert itself as a co-equal branch of government, thus restoring a much needed re-alignment of the balance of power.
These would be good outcomes, in addition to shedding light on the ongoing controversy. But I’m not counting on it happening anytime soon.