Portside aims to provide varied material of interest to people on the left that will help them to interpret the world, and to change it.
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
So Donald Trump fired James Comey because the FBI director mistreated Hillary Clinton last summer over her use of private emails.
Trump takes us for chumps. The Republic is nothing to him but a crap game. And he loads the dice.
In this case, he signs the letter dismissing Comey and hands it to his personal bodyguard to take over to the FBI office. But Comey isn’t there. He’s in Los Angeles, where he will hear on television that he has been dumped — and at first think it’s a practical joke. We are not making this up.
Hardly 24 hours had passed since Sally Q. Yates, the former acting attorney general who in late January also was fired by Trump, testified before a Senate hearing that she had informed the White House that Trump’s duplicitous national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, had lied about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States and was vulnerable to Russian blackmail. But it took Trump another 18 days to fire him and then only after The Washington Post leaked what Yates had uncovered.
In her testimony Monday, Yates was such a straight arrow, the iconic public servant, and so devastatingly credible that the White House had to figure out how to blunt her testimony.
How to change the story? How to send the bloodhounds of the press howling down another trail?
Fire Comey, and say you don’t like the way he handled the Hillary Clinton email affair, although last year — gasp! — you lavished praise on him for doing exactly what you now say he screwed up.
“It took a lot of guts,” Trump said when Comey reopened his investigation of Clinton. But that was then and this is now. The irony of the man who screamed “Lock her up!” throughout his presidential campaign now trying to shed crocodile tears for “Crooked Hillary,” as Trump called his Democratic rival, would be hilarious if it wasn’t so very obviously cynical and contrived.
But clearly, something else is going on here. Could it be that Comey’s investigation of Russia’s interference with our election was getting closer and closer to Trump? Is that why the Trump gang pushed him out the nearest window?
And what about this statement in Trump’s brief letter officially dismissing Comey: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me on three separate occasions that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless, concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” WHAT three occasions, and what did Comey say, when did he say it, and why? Or is Trump lying about that, too?
Bottom line: Is the White House simply trying to cover up the truth? That question answers itself.
And oh, let’s not forget Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, who had to recuse himself from the investigation of Russia because he, too, had been dishonest about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Recused or not, he was directly involved in sacking Comey. Does anyone around Trump keep his word?
Trump’s dismissal of Comey smacks of what the autocrats in Turkey, Egypt, and the Philippines would do – each of them praised recently by Trump, who clearly sees them as role models. It is also more than a little reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s 1973 Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon wanted to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox but his attorney general and deputy attorney general refused to do his dirty work. They were fired, too. In Sessions, Trump has a more compliant stooge.
The constant drip of evidence continues. There are reports that a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas to associates of Michael Flynn. James Hohmann at The Washington Post noted that at Monday’s Senate hearing, former director of national intelligence James Clapper “was asked about a news report that Britain’s intelligence service first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious interactions between Trump advisers and Russian intelligence agents. The same story also said multiple European allies passed along information in the spring of 2016. Asked if that is accurate, [Clapper] replied: ‘Yes, it is and it’s also quite sensitive… The specifics are quite sensitive.’”
How does Trump react? He fires off more of his querulous, defensive tweets, claiming the whole Russia story is “fake news.” That’s his response to just about everything. What was it Joseph Addison, playwright beloved by the Founders, said? Oh, yes: “Husband a lie, and trump it up in some extraordinary emergency.” No pun intended.
Trump is hiding something. Something extraordinary. To keep it hidden there is no end to the chaos he will stir at the highest level of government. Every day he lies lustily, as reflexively as the rest of us breathe, knowing some filth will stick. With each day he edges us closer to autocracy.
With the news of Comey’s sacking, the need is clear and more absolute than ever: We must have a special prosecutor to turn the stones over — or an independent and bipartisan commission with subpoena power and public hearings, like the 9/11 commission. Or both.
Trump’s presidency is deeply corrupted, our democracy is compromised, and the system of checks and balances is failing us.
He’s attempting a coup. No joke. We need the truth. Now.
Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com.
Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWinship.
by Matthew Rosenbert and Matt Apuzzo
May 10, 2017
by Adam Schiff
In the wake of President Trump’s brazen interference with the independence of the FBI and the Justice Department, the country faces a crisis of confidence in the administration of justice not seen in more than four decades, and disturbing questions that demand immediate answers.
The firing of FBI Director James B. Comey offers Trump the ability to appoint a new director more beholden to him and perhaps more malleable than Comey, especially as it pertains to the investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. That can’t be allowed to happen. The FBI must have a strong, independent director.
Given the president’s abiding and very literal conflict of interest in this case, Congress must also demand a full explanation of all the circumstances that led to Comey’s firing, as well as supporting documentation from the Justice Department, lest the integrity of our justice system be called into even greater question
In his letter dismissing Comey, the president thanked the director for thrice informing him that he was not under investigation. Because Comey had specifically refused to rule out an investigation of the president during testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the president’s representation is just that — a one-sided representation. Most of Trump’s claims on the Russia matter have been false — from the fully debunked assertion that President Barack Obama wiretapped him to his recent misrepresentation that former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. testified that there was no evidence of collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. As a result, anything the president represents on the Russia investigation should not be taken at face value. And, of course, even if correct, the president’s campaign team is under investigation. Where that trail leads no one can be certain.
However, the president is not the only party in this case with serious conflicts of interest.
Indeed, the most troubling aspect of Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s otherwise fair critique of Comey’s actions during the Hillary Clinton email investigation is to whom his memorandum is addressed — Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who misled his colleagues in the Senate about his contacts with the Russian government `and was rightly forced to recuse himself from any decision-making role in the Russia investigation.
Because Comey was leading the FBI investigation into allegations that Trump campaign associates may have colluded in the Russian hacking of our election, how is it appropriate for Sessions to play any part in the firing of the man leading the Russia probe? For all the attention that Rosenstein pays to Comey’s judgment and ethical obligations, he demonstrated no disquiet with the equally serious conflict of interest both Sessions and the president have in terminating the director while associates of the president are subjects of counterintelligence or criminal investigation.
Moreover, the stated rationale the White House has pushed for firing Comey is at odds with the president’s own words during the campaign. After Comey violated department policy by discussing the Clinton investigation only days before the election, Trump praised the director for shining a new spotlight on Clinton’s email troubles as Americans were heading to the polls. How were those actions praiseworthy then, and a firing offense now? Even for a president whose views are erratic and contradictory, the swiftness of his pivot on Comey is enough to induce vertigo.
All of this underscores the need for an independent prosecutor to oversee the FBI investigation. An independent prosecutor, or “special counsel,” of unimpeachable integrity should be appointed, after a selection process free from any real or perceived political influence. Given the taint accompanying the president’s decision, only this step will give the public any modicum of confidence that the investigation will be conducted fairly, rigorously and independent of political influence and interference. And while Congress continues to press forward with its own vigorous probe, the American people would likewise benefit from a congressionally empowered independent commission, fully staffed and immune from political pressure, to carry on a separate, nonpartisan review of the facts.
By firing Comey, Trump again has caused the public to wonder whether there is more here than meets the eye. To the long list of questions about his former national security adviser, his attorney general’s flawed testimony before the Senate and his campaign’s contacts with Russia, we must now add one more: Why, really, did the president fire James Comey?
Adam B. Schiff, of California, is the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.