Wednesday, May 10, 2017

THE COMEY CRISIS SHOULD STIR JOHN DOE MEMORIES

By Dominique Paul Noth

Comey is understandably puzzled by reasons given
for sudden firing.
The firing of FBI director James Comey shut out other headline-making news but not the one headline President Trump had tried to suppress – the nature and depth of the Russian interference in the US presidential election he won and whether his associates were in any way involved.

Blaming the firing on Comey’s treatment of Hillary Clinton’s emails – first his closing the investigation as nothing more than carelessness 10 months ago and then reopening the probe in October with no negative results – was painfully laughable. The first round hurt Trump’s campaign, the second may have handed him the presidency and brought much praise of Comey from new president Trump into March of this year. 

The Democrats were surely upset that Comey placed his own judgment ahead of Department of Justice tradition to probe the inconsequential so close to Nov. 8, but many believed he did it over an inflated devotion to his noble FBI image – an Untouchable Elliot Ness hubris.  There is no question he had redeemed himself in critics’ eyes by his nonpartisan plunge into the Russian investigation – and yet that’s when Trump discovered tattered ancient reasons to fire him.

It clearly wasn’t over Hillary – and if Trump wants to reopen that investigation I think her legal team is primed and ready to go. 

Despite what Trump’s  press agents are saying  (they are still behaving like PR flacks rather than press secretaries required to buttress a president’s decisions with believable  information)  his doubts only started building after Comey’s March 20 testimony that Trump team members were being targeted in the Russian investigation.  

That was also the testimony in which Comey rebutted the president’s tweet storm against Obama and his suggestions that foreign intelligence agencies were helping. “With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully,” Comey testified. 

Yet neither this direct refutation of the president nor mention of the Russian investigation were given as reasons.  As poker player Sen. Tim Kaine mused, the giveaway “tell” was Trump feeling it necessary to include in the firing letter reference to three times Comey assured Trump he was not personally a target of the Russian investigation.

The strongman image Trump likes was revealed by an interim PR flack, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who defended Trump’s change of heart about Comey by elevating him as the ultimate authority for an agency that long prided itself on independence:  “Once you take over leading the Department of Justice, that’s very different than being a candidate in a campaign.”

MSNBC’s Chuck Todd speculates that Trump’s history is to run toward trouble to defy it.  I see it somewhat differently. He feints toward the threat as he did with Trump University but quickly backs off and settles when the opposition looks too strong. Here he may have acted before the opposition becomes too strong and will back away when – or if -- he sees he miscalculated. 

I doubt that the “personal assurance by Comey” Trump dragged into the firing letter really settled him down – it indicated how stirred up he had been and how worried he is.

There is a standard investigation technique of closing in on the little fish to hope they will flip on the bigger fish, and the littler fish had clearly been talking to the Russians --  to the point that new AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from all things campaign-related,  yet apparently waded in on firing Comey for something campaign related!  It was a fresh perversion of the term “recusal.”

Wisconsinites have reason to recognize the little fish technique and the Trump cover-up, because that is what it is – an amazing degree of cover-up if Trump really didn’t know what the Russians were doing, just as it was a big guns cover-up of Walker if he really were innocent of illegal campaign finance collusion in the John Doe case.

When the first John Doe investigation circled in on and landed lawbreakers in Scott Walker’s realm, the issue for those caught and those under later investigation was whose side was it better to be on.  Leaving ethics aside, could they survive some prison time and be rescued with gainful employment and restoration of status by the forces of Walker? Or would the harm inflicted by the arm of the law be worse?

They decided on their own party rescuers because they knew Walker had the state supreme court locked up, the big money on his side and a series of well-financed blocking maneuvers that were likely to stifle if not crush the investigation getting closer to Walker, who was not a target but could have been if the prosecutors were left alone.

Sure enough, the John Does forces were shut down. The big fish is still swimming.

Trump may well be assuming that having the White House and its bully pulpit, plus a winning number of public voters even if a minority of the nation, and the AG and the once respected deputy AG on his side,  he will escape harm. He certainly considers the executive more powerful than the Congress -- and the courts he will now appoint -- regardless of what the Constitution says about equal branches. 

The Republicans in Congress are so in love with having the White House that they will clearly put up with a loose cannon with an R after his name despite what that niggling conscience on their shoulder is telling them. They are unlikely to look the evidence coldly in the face, just as the Democrats are likely to smell deception even as they plead with their colleagues to look and look again at the president’s behavior.

There are some stirrings of resistance in Congress, including several GOP House members calling for a special investigation. For the first time in Trump’s short reign, a legislative proposal of the president to reverse Obama drilling requirements involving methane gas was killed May 10 because three GOP senators joined the resistance.

If case his administration is not capable of finding its conscience without some strong nudging,  the public shoves at the Trump cabinet may change complacency,  as Betsy Vos just found out. Many groups are now calling for public action to strengthen the spines of Republicans in Congress on making sure the Russian investigation is in no way impeded.

Some call this a constitutional crisis, others a political crisis. However you analyze it, it is a democratic crisis that will test the resolve of the nation and its elected representatives.

If former security chief James Clapper is right, the Russian interference is the most inflammatory attack on democracy in our post WWII history. Even the president ought to want to get to the bottom of it rather than muddying up the ocean’s depths. If the president is engaging in machinations to protect himself at the nation’s expense, we are worse off than even Clapper envisions.

About the author: Noth has been  a professional journalist since the 1960s, first as national, international and local news copy editor at The Milwaukee Journal, then as one of the editors for its original Green Sheet, also  for almost two decades the paper’s film and drama critic. He became the newspaper’s senior feature editor, then was tapped by the publishers of the combining Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for special projects and as first online news producer before voluntarily departing in the mid-1990s to run online news seminars and write on public affairs and consumer news. From 2002 to 2013 he ran the Milwaukee Labor Press as editor. It served as the Midwest’s largest home-delivered labor newspaper, with archives at milwaukeelabor.org.  In that role he won top awards yearly until the paper stopped publishing in 2013. His investigative pieces and extensive commentaries are now published by several news outlets as well as at his culture and politics outlets known as Dom's Domain.  He also reviews theater for urbanmilwaukee.com.  


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