Trump Can’t be Allowed to Pick the Next FBI Director
I hate to re-litigate stories from the distant past after the world has moved on to new soul-sucking scandals, but there’s still some unfinished business with this small matter of firing the FBI Director.
So if you’re willing, please indulge my thoughts on this scandal from a generation ago (in Trump-scandal years).
What I find frustrating about the story of Trump firing James Comey is the inability of Trump’s critics to stay zeroed in on exactly what the problem is here and not let him or his enablers off the hook.
The issue is this: No matter what, the President cannot be allowed to hand-pick the person that will oversee a major ongoing investigation in which he, the President, is a main stakeholder. That is not a matter of interpretation, and there is nothing partisan at all in the concept. If you’re under investigation, you can’t hand-pick the people that run that investigation.
Trump defenders are beating several basic points in their quest to frame the Comey firing as something justified and right that nobody should be complaining about: 1) That so many Democrats said Comey should be ousted last October; 2) that the President has the right to fire whomever he chooses, whenever he chooses; 3) That Comey’s direct bosses seemed to fully agree he needed to go.
So, I could quite conceivably say, “Yes, fine, many Democrats didn’t like Comey a while back. Le’ts not forget that. And absolutely, the President has the discretion to fire the FBI Director whenever he wants, as even Comey himself said, and I fully accept the opinions of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. Very good, Comey has to go, let him go, no tears for him, he’ll do fine in the private sector.” Still, if I say all this, that massive mountain of a problem remains: Donald Trump absolutely cannot be allowed to choose the next head of the FBI when he is a main stakeholder in an investigation by the FBI. This is the most fundamental and easy-to-spot conflict of interest imaginable.
If I’m an interviewer, I’m asking every single politician or Trump surrogate the same question: Is it a conflict of interest for the President to hand-pick the head of a law enforcement agency that is investigating his political activities? Is it okay to allow that to happen?
Now, of course, the entire given rationale for firing Comey is complete B.S., and the act was an obvious obstruction of justice. I can rest easy knowing that interpretation won’t be proven wrong anytime soon. But since Republicans and Trump supporters are willing to play dumb to the end of earth on any point that lends itself to playing dumb, they will do so. They’ll happily pick the most Trump-friendly of the ten different storylines the Trump Administration offered and say, “That’s the one that’s most believable to me!” Fine. Fully abandon the use of your own brain because Trump’s wisecracks make you feel vindicated. But also, please state explicitly, on the record, that you are okay with the President being able take law enforcement investigations into his activities and put them in the possession of hand-picked successors.
Because that’s going have to be okay any time any President or Governor or powerful politician is ever investigated for anything: If they’ve got the juice to fire the overseer of the investigation, they can do it, because that’s just part of being in charge. That’s what you’re signing up for here if you let Trump skate through and pick a new director.
If a new FBI head is nominated and confirmed without fierce debate over this question, then nothing will matter. We will have allowed a clear statement that our top law enforcement agency is nothing more than an extension of the will of the President. We will have made taking power away from the Trump family an insurmountable task.
And let me be clear: I’m not lamenting the firing of Comey in any way. I’m not trying to bring him back. He’s gone and the vacancy at the FBI is a real thing, and it needs to be filled. But the move that matters most is still ahead, and it cannot be allowed to happen the way Trump wants it to happen. I don’t even know how it should happen; it’s a complete mess. But any successor that comes from Trump’s list of possibilities should face everything from endless filibustering to the most massive protests and civil disobedience this country has ever seen.