With FBI chief James Comey’s firing, democracy is officially in crisis

Miami Herald Editorial Board

FBI Director James Comey, whom President Trump fired on Tuesday, as he testifies before Congress in March.
FBI Director James Comey, whom President Trump fired on Tuesday, as he testifies before Congress in March. Associated Press

If Americans who believe in democracy were scared before, they should be terrified now.

Tuesday, the man heading the investigation into allegations of collusion between Russia and President Trump’s victorious campaign for the White House was fired — by the White House.

FBI Director James Comey was terminated, the Justice Department said in the richest of ironies, because of how he handled — mishandled, the administration now seems to think — the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Of course, if that were true, Comey would have been gone Jan. 21.

It is any president’s prerogative to dismiss an FBI director. President Clinton did it in 1993 when he fired William Sessions when he refused to resign over ethical issues.

But no, this latest smells of Trump’s most blatant attempt yet to keep the FBI hounds at bay, to throw them off the scent, then muzzle them completely.

Congress cannot let that happen. If the center of our precious democracy is going to hold, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle must demand nothing less than an independent investigation into the disturbing ties between President Trump, his associates and Russia. The Senate’s probe has been hobbled by a lack of staffing, partisanship and a dangerous ho-hum attitude.

But Russia’s interference in the United States’ presidential election was no less consequential than Comey’s — who, as Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, rightly tweeted, should be called “to testify in an open hearing about the status of Russia/Trump investigation at the time he was fired.”

The FBI director was going soft on the president’s enemies, proclaiming himself, unpersuasively, “mildly nauseous” over possibly costing Hillary Clinton the presidential election. And on Tuesday, he had to clarify, if not walk back, his allegations that Clinton aide Huma Abedin had forwarded thousands of emails to her husband, the smarmy Anthony Weiner. Was the FBI’s probe getting too close for Trump’s comfort?

On Monday, the investigation got a kick in the pants from former interim U.S. Attorney Gen. Sally Yates and former director of national intelligence James Clapper. Together, they painted a picture of an administration that was in no way alarmed at the allegations of Russia ties.

Yates related that the Trump White House knew that Michael Flynn, the president’s first choice as national security adviser, lied about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. But, in discussing the matter with White House Counsel Donald McGhan, she said that he asked her why the Justice Department was so concerned that one White House official had lied to another. Scary.

President Trump is pulling the strings here — again — and because he is such a master at it, expect nothing but a puppet as Comey’s replacement. Make that puppet/pitbull. Imagine a Gov. Chris Christie, who has seen few repercussions from Bridgegate; a Rep. Trey Gowdy, a man filled with so much partisan animus that he just couldn’t let Benghazi go.

It now falls to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to hack through the fog and distraction and appoint what Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer called a “fearless” independent special prosecutor to conduct the Trump/Russia probe. Rosenstein himself will have to be fearless. In doing the president’s bidding, he recommended that Comey be terminated over how he disclosed information about the Clinton investigation last year.

He must make clear whom he really serves — Americans — and confront this abuse of power by appointing a special prosecutor immediately.