The American system of checks and balances is being put to a major test by President Donald J. Trump. The system must push back, and nothing short of total transparency can suffice.
Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey on Tuesday was ill-timed and invites healthy suspicions that Comey was getting close to revealing embarrassing details about Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign collusion last year.
An outside investigator is needed to get to the bottom of what Russia did and who in the U.S. was also involved. Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia serves on the House Intelligence Committee and has called for such a bipartisan independent investigation since December.
It seems unlikely our Justice Department, which appears twice compromised after Comey’s sudden ouster and Attorney General Jeff Session’s need to step aside in March because of his own undisclosed contacts with a Russian ambassador, would appoint an independent prosecutor. That leaves it to the U.S. Senate and House to establish an independent, bipartisan commission to do the work.
“Elvis Presley once said, ‘truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain’t goin’ away,’ ” Heck, who serves on the U.S. House Intelligence Committee that is carrying out its own probe of Russian election interference, said in a statement after the firing. “If anybody thinks this intimidation is going to halt our efforts, they are wrong. The work continues.”
Heck called the firing “the most egregious abuse of power” since disgraced President Richard Nixon’s actions in 1973 that came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Nixon forced the firing of Archibald Cox, the independent prosecutor looking into the Watergate break-in and White House cover-up after Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus refused and resigned.
Certainly Comey’s actions — including an announcement barely a week before the election that might have helped Trump win — were questionable. But the White House claims that is why he was fired don’t hold water. Comey was ditched just days after asking for more funds from the Justice Department to carry out a wider probe of Russian interference and possible collaboration with Trump’s campaign staffers. He was to testify in the Senate on Thursday.
Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, who is leading a Senate committee investigation of the Russian election interference, said he was “troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination,” according to a statement quoted by The New York Times. He said the firing “further confuses an already difficult investigation by our committee” and that Comey was “more forthcoming with information” than his FBI predecessors.
Smoke is not proof of fire. But when smoke billows, it’s appropriate to be suspicious, call out fire trucks and find out what is there.
Transparency — which can be best provided by outsiders — is the surest way to uncover the truth about Russia interference in our elections and any involvement by Trump allies. Nothing less can do.