Understanding James Comey’s Termination: Exploring the need for special prosecution

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Dylan Lorio-MacNamara

05-26-2017

On May 9, 2017, President Trump fired James Comey, the Director of the FBI, after months of tense discussions about investigations into Trump’s administration by Comey. According to Trump’s letter to Comey, the firing had nothing to do with said investigation, but rather was due to the recommendation of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. Days later, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt in a TV interview that he fired Comey on his own intuition, and because of the reported investigation, leaving many wondering which version of the story is true. This dissonance has caused a lot of strife within the government, throughout the media, and has left many average citizens questioning the future of law enforcement in this country. As I’ve followed this case over the past two weeks, reading and researching, I’ve come to realize that we as Americans are in a vulnerable position; we are at the mercy of those in charge of our government to do what they feel should be done about this. But this is a problem that needs to be resolved, not just for the sake of the American people, or even James Comey; this incident could represent a turning point in the Democratic institutions of American government, of right and wrong, and of power throughout the world.

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As is always the case, there are conflicting views about what should be done in response to this incident. Many on the Right feel that this is truly a non-issue, that we should all simply move on and accept the fact that Comey has been fired. This is an easy thing to argue for because the president does have the right to fire the head of the FBI whenever he wants. It is fair to say that Trump was well within his rights to fire Comey, regardless of any investigations or probes. It was not an abuse of power, and therefore it would follow that there is not any story to report beyond finding a replacement.

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Others on the Right argue that it is unfair of Democrats to question Trump’s decision as they are because it is hypocritical. It is true that in the fall, before the election, Comey released information that many point to as causing Hillary Clinton to lose the election. It is also true that following that development, many Democrats called for his resignation, many of whom are now questioning Trump’s decision. This complete reversal of opinion does seem to represent Democrats’ inability to accept defeat, and it is fair to at least be weary of their current judgement based on their past beliefs.

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Unfortunately for Trump supporters, however, these arguments do not hold up when presented with all of the facts of the case. To claim that Americans should just move on and forget about this is to ignore the staggering amount of circumstantial evidence that exists, and which seems to grow every day, pointing to an abuse of power by Trump. And honestly, questioning Democrats’ motivations for speaking out, instead of questioning Trump’s motivations for firing Comey, is almost offensively tendentious.

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To the first point, we simply do not live in a society which allows for matters such as this firing to be swept under the rug. There are policies in place which establish guidelines and procedures for things such as this, and it is important for everyone to know that these policies are being followed. For instance, the appointment of a special prosecutor is highly precedented, and to suggest otherwise is just ignorance of the law. Robert Mueller, who has been appointed special counsel, is a former Director of the FBI; the Justice Department believes he will seek out the reality of this case without the influence of politics or biases. This is an important step toward preserving the security of American democracy because it represents a need for unbiased truth. Whether or not the new investigation reveals any wrongdoings by the Trump administration, the fact that there will still be an investigation is the real point; this issue will not just go away for Trump.

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With regards to the second argument, again I think it really represents a lack of journalistic integrity to ignore the entire conversation being had at present, and instead focus on past statements. And like I said, I think it’s fair to point to those comments in reference to today’s debate, but that caveat is an important one. An argument based solely on highlighting contradictions in one’s words can be valid, but in this case the comments are in two totally different contexts: in the fall, Comey mishandled sensitive information (a fact which Trump’s spokespeople cited as a reason for Comey’s firing), so Democrats called him out; now, Trump appears to have attempted to squash an investigation into his team by Comey, so Democrats are now calling Trump out. It is unfair to characterize these comments as hypocritical simply because they seem contradictory on the surface, without getting into the circumstances surrounding the comments.

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Having said all of that, it is important to recognize that this is (obviously) an unresolved issue, and we will have to wait and find out what comes of the investigation to make any real judgements. However, we are able to speculate on what could happen, because we have seen a case very similar to this before in American history: Watergate.

In 1972, burglars related to Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign were caught attempting to wiretap phones and steal documents from the Democratic National Committee. It is unclear whether Nixon was aware of the attempt ahead of time, but he took steps to cover it up: he tried to pay to keep the burglars from talking to police, destroyed evidence, attempted to stop the FBI from investigating the incident, and fired uncooperative staff members. It’s those last two actions that are most resonant to today’s case with Trump and Comey, which is the real reason I think we all ought to pay attention to this issue. While Nixon was never prosecuted, he read the writing on the wall and resigned before he could be, leading many to speculate about his guilt (similar to pleading the 5th Amendment, it just has a bad connotation). Trump’s actions are very reminiscent of Nixon’s, and they should alarm anyone following the story, because they could turn out to be just as damning now as they were back then.

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All of this is to say again that we must wait and see what happens. I honestly don’t want to believe that Trump attempted to obstruct justice, or colluded with the Russians, but I believe we all have a right to know either way. This investigation is really about checking the power of the president, and making sure the office is not being abused. It has nothing to do with Trump being a political outsider, or any personal disagreements with the man; any president would be investigated in this way if they were to do the same things. Or at least they should be investigated in this way. The whole point is that we as Americans should never be in a position of doubt such as we are right now, and a fair, unbiased investigation is the only way to clarify our questions. Furthermore, we deserve a president who respects the authority of the institutions put in place to control him, not one who tries to bully his way through Washington until all that’s left are his supporters. With that comes the responsibility to stand up for our rights, and to not let anyone get away with any abuse of power, be it Trump or anyone else. It is crucial that we all accept our rights to speak out and utilize our freedoms to help create a better country for everyone around us.

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