The minute the electoral vote was tallied and the winner of the presidential election was decided, the stage was set for the bizarre events that now jeopardize the integrity of that office.
Americans, through a system that seems utterly outdated in the modern world, had managed to choose a chief executive who not only isn’t suited for the job but who has no concept of its limits. Untrained in nearly every aspect or understanding of democracy, the new occupant of the Oval Office, the most important space in the nation, obviously sees himself as a monarch with an all-powerful position.
Donald Trump, who ran a company in which he had the last word on every decision, has carried an imperial view with him as he seeks to change the face of government in almost revolutionary fashion. Accomplishing the extreme promises of his campaign would require obedience from every corner of the republic. Who said the government has three branches?
For Trump, “loyalty” is the key word when it comes to success. Apparently someone forgot to tell James Comey, the former FBI head fired by Trump.
Comey, in congressional testimony this past week, said Trump suggested he end an investigation into Trump’s friend and former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over his contacts with Russian diplomats. It doesn’t take a legal scholar to understand the inappropriateness of such a request. It was a clear effort to interfere with an official investigation and, at the very least, bordered on obstruction of justice.
Critics of Comey - I’ve been vocal over his mishandling of the Hillary Clinton email case - have rightly contended that rather than stare silently at the president after he made his audacious ask, Comey should have laid down the law and reminded Trump that the FBI is a wholly independent entity. Reminding the president that Richard Nixon’s White House stay ended because of obstruction would not have been out of line.
Instead, Comey said, he quickly asked his immediate boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to be a buffer between him and Trump and to notify the White House counsel there was a potential problem.
Sessions later recused himself from the Russian investigation. Comey also said his conversation with the president so bothered him that he left the White House and immediately made notes about the incident.
That’s fine, but his failure to immediately halt the conversation is evidence of the same bad judgment he showed in the Clinton matter, which clearly impacted the election.
There’s little doubt that Trump fails to grasp the balance of power and the sanctity of the legal process. His narcissistic tendencies asserted themselves dramatically in this instance, the most important aspect of which is Comey’s firing.
Though the president’s spokespeople initially said Comey got axed because he had lost the confidence of his agents and was damaging the bureau, Trump himself has said the firing happened because of the Russia probe.
And while the president, being the president, has certain latitude to discuss or comment on things other officials cannot, the commander in chief cannot make requests aimed at impeding an investigation. Such acts could be considered corruption and could well lead to impeachment.
Trump firing Comey immediately after demanding his loyalty and directing him to go easy on “good guy” Flynn comes awfully close to fitting the description of a criminal act.
It’s now up to the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller to determine this and other facts in this scandalous affair.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers.