PD Editorial: Firing of James Comey underscores need for special prosecutor


Hopes of a vigorous and comprehensive investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the November election as well as possible collusion with Trump associates suffered a major blow on Tuesday — just as the need for one was becoming ever more apparent.

Comparisons between President Donald Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey and the Saturday Night Massacre that precipitated the downfall of President Richard Nixon are probably premature. Nonetheless, the justification for the firing — that the president was unhappy with Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — is specious given the president’s praise of Comey during the campaign and the fact that nobody benefited more from his missteps in October than Trump.

Whatever his justification, Trump’s sudden removal of Comey leaves the future of the FBI’s ongoing investigation into Russia connections in peril — and casts doubt on the likelihood that anyone will be appointed who will ensure its completion.

Given all of that, we join those, including dozens of senators and representatives, who are calling for the naming of a special prosecutor to lead an independent investigation into those connections. The extensive intelligence about Russia’s influence, the gravity of the stakes at hand — possible collusion with a foreign power to alter the outcome of a presidential election — and the growing evidence of White House indifference to these connections and potential obstruction, as shown by Trump’s decision to fire Comey, demand an independent investigation. We call on Republicans in Congress to join leaders such as Sen. John McCain and Sen. Dianne Feinstein in recognizing the need for one.

The timing was clearly no accident. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that it comes days after Comey had asked the Justice Department’s second in command, Rod Rosenstein, for a significant increase in funding for the bureau’s investigation into the Russian connections. Rosenstein also happens to be the one who authored Justice Department memo that Trump has used to justify Comey’s firing.

Meanwhile, CNN has reported that Comey’s dismissal came just hours after the network learned that federal prosecutors had issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The subpoenas were issued in recent weeks by the U.S Attorney’s Office in Alexandria, Virginia, and were seeking business records of associates who worked with Flynn.

Flynn was also the focal point of intense testimony before Congress this week by former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who said that she told White House officials in January that the president’s national security adviser had lied to the vice president about his Russian contacts and was vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow. But their response was to do nothing — until 18 days later when the Washington Post broke the news about Flynn’s Russian connections. By then Yates was already gone, fired for refusing to endorse Trump’s Muslim ban on grounds it was unconstitutional, a viewpoint that so far has been upheld by the courts. But her testimony raises questions about whether her ousting also may have been related to her outing of Flynn. The true reason for her ousting may never be clear.

But what the public must know is the extent of Russia’s attempts to alter the outcome of the Nov. 8 election and the potential involvement of anyone related with the Trump campaign. The hopes of that happening now rests with the naming of a special prosecutor and the willingness of congressional Republicans to ensure that happens. There may ultimately be no evidence of collusion, but so far the White House is doing its best impression of an administration that has something to hide.