There has been a lot of hyper-ventilating from both sides of the aisle on the matter of President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, but not much sound thinking. Let’s try to pick our way through the thicket of rhetoric, using the Constitution as our guide, and logic and common sense as our process.
First, the President does indeed have the power to fire an FBI Director. The Constitutional power lies in the fact that the FBI Director is part of the Executive Branch of government, and the President has inherent power to fire an employee of the Executive Branch. It was done only once since the FBI was created in 1908, by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and there was no Constitutional outcry over it.
The respected and nonpartisan Congressional Research Service notes that the President has also had specific statutory power to appoint and dismiss the director of the FBI at his or her discretion since the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act was adopted in 1968. That bill established that the position of FBI director was to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
Since 1968, seven nominations have been confirmed and two have been withdrawn by the President before confirmation. The CRS notes unambiguously that there are no statutory conditions that limit the President’s authority to remove the FBI Director.
But just because something is legal doesn’t mean that it is smart, or that its legality can shield one from all related consequences of the act. I’ll leave it to you, gentle listeners of American Radio Journal, to decide whether it was smart, given the political firestorm that has since erupted. But if the President fired Comey to quash a criminal investigation, whether of the President himself or persons connected to him, then it could be obstruction of justice.
Some commentators have seized on what they claim are discrepancies between the reason for the firing and its timing given by the President’s spokespeople, namely the letter from the newly-appointed Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and what they claim was the President’s real reason, to quash the Russian investigation. Let’s look at what the President actually said in that interview with Lester Holt of NBC: he said, "I was going to fire regardless of [the] recommendation." Late night host Seth Meyers was almost apoplectic as he screamed, "he just admitted everything the White House has been saying since Tuesday is a lie." Similar expressions of moral outrage and claims of outright lying issued forth from any number of other talking heads. But are those two comments from President Trump really mutually contradictory? Can’t both be true – that he’d been thinking about firing Comey for some time, and then along comes this letter from the new Deputy AG essentially recommending the same action for a different reason?
Of course, they can! The liberal commentariat is so blinded by their hate for Donald Trump that they can’t see the holes in their own arguments.
There is one colossal error that President Trump has revealed in the past two weeks that has not received enough attention: if Obama AG Loretta Lynch was wrong to meet with former President Clinton at the airport during the investigation of Hillary, then James Comey was equally wrong to have dinner with President Trump in the White House during the investigation of Russian political influence.
Finally, a few words about special prosecutors. CNN touts a poll that says the public wants a special prosecutor to look at Russian actions to affect our Presidential election. The White House says it’s not necessary. Who’s right? In this case, it’s the White House. A special prosecutor should only be brought on once it’s clear that a crime may have been committed. So far, there’s no evidence of any crime. A special commission, on the other hand, could be appointed, but that would slow up the process. Let the House and Senate investigate, which automatically involves both parties, and if they find the likelihood that a crime may have been committed, decide if the Justice Department is capable of impartial prosecution. Appointing a special prosecutor at that point might be the best way to restore public trust. We’re not there yet.
But we are out of time, so let’s wrap this up by stating that without question the President had the right to fire James Comey, but he did it clumsily and then talked about it in a way that opened the door for his enemies on the media to claim that he lied. He hasn’t been smart about it, but he hasn’t been wrong, either.
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