As the news broke late this afternoon, the politicos of Washington stared into their smartphones, stunned, struggling with what to make of it. TV networks cut into their regularly scheduled programming. Chyrons promising “breaking news” actually delivered it: President Donald Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey.
Though the story is still developing and our understanding of it is evolving, we know a few basic facts. We know that Trump cited Comey’s handling of the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails as a reason for his firing. We know that Comey’s FBI had been investigating whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. What we don’t know is where all this ends.
Is this a constitutional crisis? If not, what is it, and how dangerous? Politico Magazine asked an all-star panel of legal minds to offer their insights and tell us just what to make of it.
It’s either ‘comforting’ or ‘alarming’
Cass Sunstein is professor at Harvard Law School. From 2009 to 2012, he was administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
There are two ways to understand President Trump’s firing of James Comey, and neither is unreasonable. The first is that in light of the multiple controversies that came to surround Comey, he was rightly fired. The FBI director needs to be widely trusted by the American people. Comey is not widely trusted. For the FBI, a fresh start is a good idea.
The second is that Trump does not want an independent FBI director; he wants someone who is fully subservient to him. Everyone should agree that Comey is not a subservient type. Like him or not, he is no one’s lackey. When Comey is in charge of an investigation, he goes where the facts take him (by his own lights). He insists on exercising his own judgment.
The first understanding is comforting; the second is alarming. Whether one or the other is right (or both), it is the responsibility of the Senate to ensure that the new FBI director is a person of unimpeachable professionalism, nonpartisanship and integrity. At this point in our history, the United States is struggling with unusually high levels of polarization and distrust, and the FBI is engaged in investigations that involve the White House itself. The Senate’s responsibility has never been more solemn.
Read more at Politico.