President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey created an urgent need for a special prosecutor, independent of the White House and the Justice Department, to investigate whether members of the Trump campaign team and administration violated federal law.
The Justice Department’s appointment Wednesday of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special prosecutor was the right thing to do.
Comey had been leading the investigation into Russian influence in the presidential election and whether crimes occurred. Comey’s termination, six years before the end of his term, raises the questions of whether this was done to squelch this investigation and who would lead a thorough inquiry that will ensure the prosecution of those who violated federal laws.
I do not question that President Trump had the legal authority to fire Comey. I also believe that Comey has made serious errors, especially announcing 10 days before the election that additional emails had been discovered involving Hillary Clinton. Comey’s doing so violated Justice Department policy. He made this announcement before reviewing the emails, which he later said were not new and revealed no wrongdoing. Comey’s announcement certainly changed the momentum in the campaign, and very well might have decided the outcome in an election decided by 77,000 votes.
But President Trump’s firing is deeply troubling because Comey was leading the investigation into whether high-level officials from the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, including perhaps President Trump, had violated federal laws in their dealings with Russia during the campaign. Indeed, there is strong evidence that crimes were committed. Michael Flynn, and perhaps others, appear to have violated federal statutes requiring registration as an agent of a foreign government and disclosures of payments from foreign governments.
Moreover, it seems clear that Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated federal laws that prohibit lying to Congress. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee from Vermont, asked Sessions in a questionnaire if he had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after Election Day.” Sessions’ answer was “no.” During the confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked Sessions what he would do if he learned of evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. Sessions replied, “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
But after his confirmation hearings, it was revealed that Sessions had at least two conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States in July and September. Sessions said that his communications were in his…