Worse Than Watergate

Move over, Nixon — Donald Trump just fired the person leading the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia.

This has been a very bad week for President Donald Trump.

His presidency so far has actually been full of very bad weeks.

Just one day after his inauguration, millions of people joined the Women’s March on Washington and demonstrations around the country in what was likely the largest ever single-day protest in American history.

His discriminatory executive orders targeting Muslims have been blocked by the federal courts and are currently being challenged by the ACLU.

His party has bungled Trump’s campaign promise of immediately repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. The disastrous plan finally passed by the House of Representatives will leave millions uninsured. (The Senate is apparently starting over on the bill from scratch.)

Meanwhile, at town halls all across the country, rightfully angry constituents are confronting their members of Congress about the deadly serious consequences of losing their health coverage under the Republican plan.

And, of course, the dark cloud of the FBI investigation into the president’s team of advisors and their possible collusion with Russia during the campaign has been hanging over Trump’s head for months now. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has already resigned over the growing scandal.

Suffice it to say, this administration hasn’t had very many good news weeks. But this week will likely go down as one of the worst — so far, at least.

On Tuesday, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, setting off a political firestorm that he claims to have never expected. In a shocking move, the administration initially blamed Comey’s handling of the investigation into Trump campaign rival Hillary Clinton’s private email server last year.

Then, on Wednesday, the Washington Post revealed the real reason Comey was fired: Trump was furious about the Russia investigation.

Trump was frustrated when Comey revealed in Senate testimony the breadth of the counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s effort to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. And he fumed that Comey was giving too much attention to the Russia probe and not enough to investigating leaks to journalists.

The reporters then raised some pointed questions about Comey’s firing.

The known actions that led to Comey’s dismissal raise as many questions as answers. Why was [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?
Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?
And how much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?

You read that correctly. At the time of his dismissal, Comey was asking for more resources and expanding the probe into the Trump-Russia scandal.

So, yes. This is as bad as it looks. The president of the United States has fired the person in charge of investigating him because of the investigation.

In fact, Trump has now fired three different people who were charged with investigating him or his associates: former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, former acting attorney general Sally Yates, and now Comey.

It’s almost like he doesn’t want to be investigated or something.

In a new interview on Thursday with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump himself admitted that he was thinking about the Russia investigation at the time he dismissed Comey. In what world does he think that’s acceptable?

In Congress, Democrats are rightly calling for an independent investigation into the Trump team’s reported involvement with the Russian government.

“We cannot trust an investigation led by this administration,” said Sen. Al Franken. “And it’s now clearer than ever that we need an independent investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia.”

“There’s nothing about this that is normal,” said Sen. Kamala Harris.

Even some Republicans, including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, are speaking out. Flake tweeted: “I’ve spent the last several hours trying to find an acceptable rationale for the timing of Comey’s firing. I just can’t do it.”

The day after he fired Comey, Trump suspiciously held a closed meeting with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador in the Oval Office, key figures in the Trump-Russia probe. I wonder what they talked about!

Americans should be gravely concerned about these unfolding events.

Our president thinks he is above the law. He thinks that he can put an investigation into his administration to bed by firing the investigator. This is the kind of thing authoritarian regimes do, not democratic leaders.

Many have drawn appropriate parallels between Donald Trump and Richard Nixon. That makes sense. After all, Nixon infamously fired the special prosecutor charged with investigating the Watergate scandal.

But the New York Times, describing the current “tense and uncertain time in the nation’s history,” has declared this worse than Watergate.

The obvious historical parallel to Mr. Trump’s action was the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in October 1973, when President Richard Nixon ordered the firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, prompting the principled resignations of the attorney general and his deputy. But now, there is no special prosecutor in place to determine whether the public trust has been violated, and whether the presidency was effectively stolen by a hostile foreign power. For that reason, the country has reached an even more perilous moment.

We must demand an independent investigation to get to the bottom of this scandal. The intelligence community has confirmed that Russia worked to steal the 2016 presidential election. If that weren’t appalling enough, it has become increasingly clear that Trump’s campaign may have been aware or even involved. Without a real investigation, we will never know the truth.