Someone remind Donald Trump he is not above the law | Trevor Timm | Opinion

There are so many shocking aspects to Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of the FBI director, James Comey, it’s almost hard to put into words, but one facet sticks out above all else: Trump has essentially declared that the president is above the law, and Americans of all political stripes should be incredibly disturbed by that thought.

I have harshly criticized James Comey in the pages of the Guardian almost too many times to count, but no matter one’s views of Comey’s positions, the fact that the president can suddenly fire the FBI director who is currently investigating him means that the president quite literally considers himself immune from accountability. As John Cassidy of the New Yorker wrote, “It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government.”

It’s hard to tell what’s worse: that Trump thinks he can get away with it, or the fact that the justice department and his White House are so nakedly hiding the true reason for Comey’s firing.

When the news hit on Tuesday night, the attorney general and his deputy released a letter and a memo which ostensibly cited, of all things, Comey’s behavior during the Clinton investigation before the election. But it immediately became clear that Trump was trying to find any excuse to dampen the current frenzy in Washington around his campaign’s relationship to the Russian government.

Just as with his Muslim ban, Trump’s own hubris and inability to keep his mouth shut trumped any semblance of hiding behind his lawyers. In his own letter to Comey, Trump indicated that his firing had nothing to do with Clinton and everything to do with the investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump wrote in one of the more eye-popping paragraphs in the modern history of official letters.

And if his letter wasn’t clear enough, leaks from within the Trump administration confirmed as much: the idea that Trump was doing this at the “recommendation” of the attorney general is ludicrous. As Politico reported, several people “familiar with the events said Trump had talked about the firing for over a week, and the letters were written to give him rationale to fire Comey”.

The Washington Post reported Trump was furious that Comey would not more aggressively investigate leaks coming out of the FBI and White House. The Wall Street Journal said Trump was apparently jealous of the television coverage Comey had been receiving in recent weeks, and he couldn’t believe how much television time the Russia investigation was getting. In typical Trump style, “he would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe,” a source said to Politico.

The New York Times also reported on Wednesday that just a week earlier, Comey had requested more resources from the justice department to expand his investigation into the Trump administration’s Russian ties. The person Comey requested the information from was the deputy attorney general, Rod J Rosenstein, the same man who wrote the memo “recommending” Comey be fired.

As usual, Trump has horribly miscalculated the situation. Apparently, he assumed there wouldn’t be such a big backlash to his decision, given how unpopular Comey is within the Democratic party for his alleged role in preventing a Hillary Clinton presidency, and how unpopular he is now with the Republican rank and file for his investigation of Trump.

It’s hard to see how this won’t spectacularly backfire on Trump. Members of Congress are already calling on Comey to testify again in front of the Senate. (Comey is no stranger to dramatic testimony, as he almost upended the Bush administration when he told the story of how the justice department was on the verge of mass resignations following his objections to aspects of Bush’s illegal surveillance program.)

If Trump thought that Comey was too soft on leaks, you can expect an absolute torrent of leaks from all corners of the justice department and FBI over the coming days. And just as in Nixon’s Saturday night massacre, in which he fired his attorney general in the face of the Watergate investigation, who knows if we’ll now see mass resignations from other government officials.

As with many scandals, the cover-up is often worse than the crime, especially given intelligence officials and Democratic senators have already indicated that so far there’s not much evidence that Trump officials’ dealings with Russian representatives rose to the level of a crime.

Trump is about to learn that lesson in the most public way possible.

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