Republican Sen. James Lankford called for “clarity.” Republican Sen. John McCain pronounced himself “disappointed.” And Republican Sen. Marco Rubio essentially shrugged. He said he was “surprised” by the sacking of FBI Director James Comey, but added that, “It’s a decision the president’s made, and we’ll go from here.” It is not exactly a portrait of righteous indignation.
Not to paint with too broad a brush. Some GOP officials did speak more forcefully against what Donald Trump did Tuesday night (and some supported it). But there was no mistaking a certain tepid tone to many responses, and it was almost as troubling as the firing itself.
For those who just flew in from the Amazon rainforest: In an ominous echo of Richard Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre,” Trump fired the man who has been investigating his campaign’s ties to Russia, which meddled in last year’s election with the goal of helping elect Trump president. Comey sought to find out whether Trump or his surrogates colluded with that effort.
Instead, he was given the ax, a fact he learned on television. The explanation for this was spectacularly risible. In a terse letter, Trump claimed he was responding to concerns from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, that Comey mishandled the investigation of the nothing burger that was Hillary Clinton’s emails.
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Comey did, in fact, botch the investigation, violating Justice Department protocol by publicizing unsubstantiated claims against a candidate in the midst of a campaign. But this happened last summer, and if it were really the reason for his dismissal, he’d have been gone right after Trump took power.
More to the point, it would require the credulity of a particularly stupid toddler to believe Trump, who loathes Clinton, just booted the FBI director because he treated her unfairly. No, it is painfully obvious that this is about Russia. Like Nixon in 1973, Trump is apparently faced with an investigation that is going places he doesn’t want it to go. Like Nixon, he has responded by firing the investigator.
The stench that rises from this is unmistakable, the reek of power abused and justice obstructed. It strongly suggests that we are governed by an ongoing criminal conspiracy. The situation needs, demands and requires an independent investigation.
We can’t rely on the Justice Department for that, given that its leadership is complicit in Comey’s firing. That leaves Congress, which is why the anodyne Republican reactions are so worrisome. Indeed, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has flatly ruled out a special prosecutor.
Shame on all of us if that is the last word here. We are supposed to be Americans first, before we are Rs or Ds. That’s a principle from which many Republicans have turned in recent years, repeatedly choosing themselves and their wealthy patrons over the greater American good. The health care debacle is but the latest glaring example.
But GOP leaders must stand up for the country this time or risk losing it. If they don’t get that, the rest of us — liberal, conservative, American — must make unceasing noise and apply unstinting pressure until the party that launched eight investigations of Benghazi decides to treat this at least as seriously.
If you are not appalled, you are not paying attention. The Trump administration constitutes a clear and present danger to American democracy. We need a special prosecutor and we need one now.
Leonard Pitts Jr., is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.