Demands for Special Prosecutor Explode After Trump Fires Comey

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Demands for Special Prosecutor Explode After Trump Fires Comey

The president's dismissal of the FBI director has made it "impossible for any rational or minimally honest lawmaker" to oppose independent probe on Russia ties

James Comey testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on the FBI last week. (Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

In the wake of Tuesday night's "firestorm" announcement from the White House that FBI Director James Comey had been summarily fired from his post (in what one lawmaker called a "bizarre" termination letter from President Donald Trump), the demand for a special prosecutor or independent commission to investigate alleged Russian interference in last year's U.S. elections went from an ongoing simmer to a raging boil.

Indeed, some called for Democrats to shut down the Senate until such an investigation gets underway, while others planned for a noontime protest at the White House calling for Congress to "launch an independent investigation and appoint a special prosecutor immediately."

As a blistering New York Times editorial overnight argued:

The American people—not to mention the credibility of the world's oldest democracy—require a thorough, impartial investigation into the extent of Russia's meddling with the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump and, crucially, whether high-ranking members of Mr. Trump's campaign colluded in that effort.

By firing the FBI director, James Comey, late Tuesday afternoon, President Trump has cast grave doubt on the viability of any further investigation into what could be one of the biggest political scandals in the country's history.

As news spread of Comey's dismissal, which he was not informed of in advance, many commentators once again were comparing Trump's behavior to that of Richard Nixon and branding the firing of Comey as (another) "Tuesday night massacre." Writing for the Philadelphia Daily News, Will Bunch put it this way:

The Tuesday Night Massacre doesn't have quite the right ring, but then the sequel is almost never as satisfying as the original.

Nearly 44 years ago, Richard Nixon touched off what many of us had hoped would be the worst constitutional crisis of our lifetimes when he fired not only the special prosecutor investigating his Watergate scandal but also the attorney general and his No. 2, in the notorious Saturday Night Massacre. But that 1973 misadventure had what most Americans considered a happy ending. The investigative pressure on Nixon only increased, and he resigned 10 months later. The system worked, everybody said.

On May 9, 2017, President Trump shocked the nation by firing FBI director James Comey—just weeks after Comey confirmed that his agents have been conducting a lengthy ongoing criminal investigation into whether Trump's 2016 campaign colluded with Russia in hacking emails that damaged his election rival, Hillary Clinton.

As Common Dreams noted Tuesday night, lawmakers in Congress and outside advocates for accountability said Trump's firing of Comey leaves a special prosecutor as the only choice, with Mother Jones reporting that more than 100 members of Congress, including a handful of Republicans, have issued such a call. 

Many made their declarations on social media:

Meanwhile, both across the nation and in Washington, D.C., anti-Trump forces were mobilizing—asking constituents to flood Capitol Hill with phone calls and planning a mid-day rally for Wednesday:

"We now face a constitutional crisis," said Jo Comerford, campaign director for MoveOn.org, one of the groups organizing Wednesday's protest. "Donald Trump just fired the one man in America who was leading the most thorough and long-lasting investigation of Donald Trump. There now is no question that we need an independent commission established immediately to ensure that there is a fair, non-partisan and independent investigation into Trump, his administration, and his associates."

"It should now be wildly clear that anything other than a fully independent investigation will be compromised," Comerford said. "With Comey's firing, Trump removed the only government head leading such an investigation—and Trump did so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, himself, had to recuse himself from investigations because he lied under oath about his own conversations with Russian officials."

Comerford wasn't the only one warning of a constitutional crisis; nor was she alone in blasting Sessions for recommending Comey's dismissal even after vowing to recuse himself from investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), for his part, said he was "deeply troubled by the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who pledged to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his own Russia connections, involved himself in director Comey's firing. This is a complete betrayal of his commitment to the public that he wouldn't be involved in the investigation."

Writing at The Nation on Wednesday morning, John Nichols declared, "Sessions should step down. Immediately."

"If he fails to do so, then members of the House, Democrats and Republicans, must move to impeach the attorney general," Nichols wrote. "The urgent calls by dozens of members of Congress for a special prosecutor or a special commission (an option being explored by Michigan Republican Congressman Justin Amash) reveal the extent to which Sessions has destroyed the credibility of the Department of Justice when it comes to the inquiry. The fact that Sessions refuses to recognize his own role in this crisis is more than concerning. It is disqualifying."

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