Email #166: “this important step”?

Thank you for your form letter regarding the President’s firing of Director Comey and the investigations into Russia’s interference in the election.

Like you, I also “support Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint a special counsel to lead an impartial investigation.” I am confused though why your May 17 press release, which is dated two days before your letter to me and uses some of the same language, includes the sentence: “I applaud the Trump Administration for taking this important step ….” As you stated above, the decision to appoint a special counsel was the Deputy Attorney General’s, not the President’s. According to news reports, Rosenstein did not even inform the White House prior to the announcement. The President also sharply criticized Rosenstein decision, telling reporters:

“I believe it hurts our country terribly, because it shows we’re a divided, mixed-up, not-unified country.”

He also tweeted:

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!”

“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Your letter also states that “the House Judiciary Committee will continue to exercise oversight over this investigation as necessary.” Since you previously stated that calls for oversight by the Democratic members of your Committee were “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what you now mean. The only action regarding the investigation that you have taken as chair was to co-write a letter to the Justice Department about leaks of Michael Flynn lying. You were not concerned with the investigation itself but with the disclosure of details to news agencies. Is this what you mean when you say you “will continue to exercise oversight”?

It is also difficult to take seriously your ending promise: “Rest assured I will work to ensure this investigation is conducted in an impartial and appropriate manner.” While I am hopeful that Robert Mueller will behave as impartially and appropriately as he did as FBI Director under Presidents Bush and Obama, I do not understand how you will “work to ensure” that. Your May 17 press release shows the opposite. After falsely applauding the Trump Administration, you characterize the appointment of a special counsel as a step that “the previous Administration repeatedly declined to do in other matters.” Using the investigation of the Trump administration as an opportunity to criticize President Obama months after he has left office is hardly “impartial.”

We do, however, appear to agree that “Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and alleged ties with Trump campaign personnel” need “a fair and independent investigation in order to root out the facts.” But it is in part because of your failure to meet the constitutional responsibilities of your office that such an investigation is only now underway.

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?