Email #160: “extraordinary circumstances”

Given the explicit conflict of interest of the FBI investigating any sitting President, a special counsel should already have been appointed to investigate possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the election. While conflict of interest alone is sufficient cause, Director Comey’s firing also meets the law’s standard of “extraordinary circumstances” for the appointment a special counsel.

Multiple sources report that the President has attempted to use his authority to improperly influence the FBI Director before firing him. James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said that Comey “mentioned that he had been invited to the White House to have dinner with the president and he was uneasy with that” because Comey didn’t want to create “the appearance of compromising the integrity of the FBI.”

A former FBI official told NBC News that “The White House called [Comey] out of the blue. Comey didn’t want to do it. He didn’t even want the rank and file at the FBI to know about it,” but Comey agreed to the dinner because the President is “still the commander-in-chief. He’s your boss. How do you say no?” During the dinner, the President raised the topic of the Russian investigation, but Comey “tried to stay away from it. He would say, ‘Look sir, I really can’t get into it, and you don’t want me to.'”

The New York Times reported a separate account:

“The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him. Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense… Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty. Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty… But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.” “You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.”

More extraordinary, the President stated himself that he fired Director Comey because of the Russian investigation: “when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”

The President directly contradicted earlier statements from his own White House personnel. Press Secretary Spicer said the decision to fire Comey originated from the Justice Department, specifically Deputy Attorney General Rowenstein: “It was all him. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.” Spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders added the next day: “When you receive a report that is so clear and a recommendation by someone like the deputy attorney general, you have no choice but to act.” And yet there are multiple reports that Rowenstein wrote the memo at the President’s request.

It is difficult to characterize the White House statements as a “cover up,” since the President does not seem to be aware that firing an FBI director for investigating him is an abuse of power. Given these “extraordinary circumstances,” the need for a special counsel is overwhelming. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you should be leading that call.

And yet you have said nothing. When will you place duty to your country ahead of duty to your political party and hold the Trump administration accountable?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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