COMEY AF­TER­MATH

Repub­li­cans stead­fast in defence of Trump af­ter pres­i­dent’s sud­den dis­missal of FBI di­rec­tor

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - ALEXAN­DER PANETTA

WASHINGTON — The po­lit­i­cal earth­quake touched off by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s sud­den fir­ing of an FBI di­rec­tor in­ves­ti­gat­ing his cam­paign’s ties to Rus­sia left only the slight­est, most sub­tle cracks in the par­ti­san wall that pro­tects him.

The im­me­di­ate af­ter­math saw the vast ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans de­fend­ing their pres­i­dent, shrug­ging off the dis­missal of James Comey as a non-is­sue and not the strong­man-style, in­sti­tu­tion-squash­ing gesture de­picted by op­po­nents.

That pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude was re­flected on Trump’s favourite morn­ing TV show. A Fox News seg­ment pre­sented the story as a par­ti­san skir­mish, Democrats ver­sus Repub­li­cans, blown out of pro­por­tion by the pres­i­dent’s en­e­mies, with an on-screen head­line that read: “Me­dia Melt­down — Net­works Slam Pres­i­dent For Fir­ing Comey.”

Yet the po­ten­tial for trouble ahead was planted in Tues­day’s soil.

It wasn’t so much the pro­test­ers out­side the White House, where sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple gath­ered for a noon-hour demon­stra­tion, bran­dish­ing signs with slo­gans like “Spe­cial Pros­e­cu­tor Now” and “Im­peach Trump.”

It was about signs law­mak­ers in­ves­ti­gat­ing Trump’s cam­paign are rais­ing new ques­tions. Some in­volve money. A se­na­to­rial com­mit­tee has de­manded doc­u­ments from a Trea­sury De­part­ment unit that tracks for­eign money-laun­der­ing.

There was also an invitation to Comey to tes­tify next week be­hind closed doors; mul­ti­ple re­ports Comey was fired right af­ter de­mand­ing more money for his in­ves­ti­ga­tion on the Rus­sia ties; Demo­cratic threats to block busi­ness in the Se­nate; and the grum­bling of some GOPers — all of which sug­gests this episode isn’t over.

Repub­li­cans quickly brushed off calls for a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor.

Any new in­ves­ti­ga­tions would only im­pede the cur­rent work be­ing done, said Se­nate leader Mitch McCon­nell. Two in­ves­ti­ga­tions are al­ready un­der­way, he said — one in the Se­nate and by the FBI, al­though both an­swer to Repub­li­can politi­cians.

Trump’s vice-pres­i­dent dis­missed the idea his boss fired Comey to save the pres­i­dent.

“That’s not what this is about,” Mike Pence said.

“Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump showed strong and de­ci­sive lead­er­ship to re­store the trust and con­fi­dence of the Amer­i­can peo­ple in the Fed­eral Bu­reau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion. I’m grate­ful for the ac­tion the pres­i­dent has taken.”

Democrats called such ex­pla­na­tions sur­real.

Trump has sug­gested he fired Comey for be­ing un­fair to Hil­lary Clin­ton. He said he also acted on the ad­vice of a newly-in­stalled deputy at­tor­ney gen­eral — al­though re­ports said the pres­i­dent had been look­ing for rea­sons to fire Comey ear­lier.

Equally sur­real, ac­cord­ing to Democrats, is the no­tion the pres­i­dent could turf the in­ves­ti­ga­tor in­ves­ti­gat­ing his own in­ner cir­cle. Comey re­cently con­firmed an in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ties be­tween Trump’s cam­paign and Rus­sia.

“Were those in­ves­ti­ga­tions get­ting too close to home for the pres­i­dent?” top Demo­crat Chuck Schumer won­dered aloud in the Se­nate. “If there was ever a time when cir­cum­stances war­ranted a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor, it is right now .... Noth­ing less is at stake than the Amer­i­can peo­ple’s faith in our crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and the in­tegrity of the ex­ec­u­tive branch of our gov­ern­ment.”

But there are small cracks in the closed ranks. Mem­bers of the Se­nate in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee have started to hint their in­ves­ti­ga­tion is en­ter­ing a new av­enue — lead­ing to Trump’s fi­nan­cial re­la­tion­ships.

As it hap­pened, Rus­sia’s for­eign minister was vis­it­ing the State De­part­ment on Wed­nes­day. In a joint me­dia ap­pear­ance with Rex Tiller­son, Sergei Lavrov was asked whether the fir­ing cast a shadow over the visit.

“Was he fired?” a mock-stunned Lavrov asked. Yes, came the re­ply.

“You are kid­ding,” Lavrov an­swered, tongue firmly planted in cheek. “You are kid­ding.” He then went to meet Trump. “He wasn’t do­ing a good job,” Trump said in his first pub­lic state­ments on why Comey was fired. “Very sim­ply, he was not do­ing a good job.”

DOUG MILLS, NEW YORK TIMES

Demon­stra­tors protest U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s fir­ing of FBI boss James Comey, out­side the White House, with some call­ing for his im­peach­ment.

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