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OpinionEditorial

After Comey firing, Trump-Russia probe needs special counsel

Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey based

Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey based a recommendation from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, according to the White House. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Drew Angerer

The nation now needs an independent counsel to continue the federal investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump, and those trying to get him elected, were connected to that effort.

The firing Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey, who was personally leading the probe, is troubling. The timing is shocking. The reason the White House cited is suspect.

Comey’s dismissal came a day after testimony before the Senate about the FBI’s Russia investigation made front pages around the country. Yet Trump suddenly determined that Comey had to go immediately because of the controversial news conference he held about Hillary Clinton’s emails — on July 5.

Trump could have done this on Day One. In fact, before and since the election, he repeatedly said he had confidence in Comey.

Certainly, the news conference at which Comey announced no charges would be brought against the former secretary of state, but at which he also severely criticized her for using a private email server, was unprecedented. Many, including Clinton herself, believe Comey’s dramatic interference in the race undermined the Democratic candidate. The criticism was warranted because Comey dragged the FBI into a political place it did not need to be and because he went against long-standing Justice Department guidelines.

But why fire Comey now?

The three-page letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein doesn’t answer that critical question. He focuses solely on Comey’s handling of the Clinton case. Rosenstein writes, “Almost everyone agrees that the director made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that unites people of diverse perspectives.”

In a letter to Trump endorsing Rosenstein’s assessment of Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the FBI needed a “fresh start.” Trump, in his official statement, was defensive, making a point to say that Comey had informed him three times “that I am not under investigation.” He then went on to say that he agreed with Sessions’ conclusion.

Trump couldn’t have been angry that Comey misstepped last week in Senate testimony when he overstated the number of classified emails that Clinton aide Huma Abedin forwarded to her husband. That error, which revived Democrats’ criticism of Comey, gave Trump the opportunity to paint the firing as coming with bipartisan support. Surely, more details will be revealed. Until then, the only conclusion to be drawn is that the White House decided that the FBI’s Russia probe was getting too close for comfort.

On Monday, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, whom Trump fired in January, delivered damning testimony that Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, was compromised because of his dealings with Russia. Several hours later, Trump blasted out four angry tweets, including, “Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”

Trump doesn’t have the power to end this story. And now it will not end until the nation is convinced that the president wasn’t trying to obstruct justice by firing the FBI director. — The editorial board

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