Our political traditions – and global leadership – are at stake

I find this interview with Pres. Trump to be absolutely shocking:

Especially this part:

(R)egardless of [the] recommendation, I was going to fire Comey. Knowing there was no good time do it! And in fact 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’ve won.”

In this section, he seems to admit that he fired then-FBI Director James Comey because Comey refused to end investigations into whether the Russian government influenced the last presidential election and whether people associated with the Trump campaign helped it to do so. This is in the context of the White House providing a variety of explanations for the firing.

So far, it seems that Trump supporters don’t see the big deal. They see the entire episode as nothing more than partisan maneuvering. Many Republican politicians seem to be giving Pres. Trump a pass, as well. To a certain degree, that’s not hard to understand. We live in especially partisan times, and Democrats had also been critical of Comey, giving him a large part of the blame for Hillary’s Clinton’s loss in the election.1

So, is this just another example of partisan bickering, with sides trying to win points at the other’s expense and with little reference to anything that matters?

No. It’s not.

Two of our fundamental political traditions are at stake – and quite possibly global American leadership.

Those two traditions are the separation of powers and the rule of law.

Under the separation of powers, different officials are charged with different duties so that no single official – presumed to be a flawed human being just like the rest of us – has unregulated power. Another way to put it is that we have a system of checks and balances. For example, in the case of alleged unlawful behavior, police investigate the suspected crimes. Prosecutors decide whether there’s a case to be made. Judges and juries decide guilt or innocence after lawyers face off in a court of law. Each group has a role to play, independently of the others, at least according to the ideal.

Under the rule of law, the legal system is supposed to treat everyone the same, regardless of who they are, what status they hold, etc. Everyone, including the most powerful, is subject to the law, which is enacted using the independent (yet checked) system outlined above.

So, what does this have to do with Pres. Trump and Comey’s dismissal? It sure appears, according to the reporting so far and now Trump’s own interview, that he used his authority to fire the federal government’s chief criminal and counterintelligence investigator when an investigation was getting too close to his associates – or perhaps just annoying. If further reporting and disclosures bear that out, he has abused his power by violating our traditions of the separation of powers and the rule of law.2

Partly because I live in Asia and partly because I pay attention to such things, I see examples every day of contrasts between our political traditions and others. We like to think that our traditions are worthy of emulation worldwide. I agree with that for the most part. But right now, by this president, those principles are being threatened. In turn, that is a threat to our republic, and it degrades our standing around the world. (I’m not the only American overseas that feels that way, apparently.)

The only solution I see now is for our system to uphold its traditions and restore a sense of integrity to the investigation. A fully independent and thorough inquiry is required.

P.S. Before any Democrats are tempted to get too haughty, Pres. Obama had his own similar abuses. He established a system whereby he could tag an American citizen living outside the U.S. as a threat – as a terrorist – and single-handedly order an execution using drones with no judicial oversight. Judge, jury, and executioner. Hardly a separation of powers or rule of law there.

1 As an aside, I think Democrats exaggerate Comey’s impact and underplay serious mistakes they made in the election.

2 Interestingly, Trump could have avoided this by firing Comey soon in his administration, but he chose not to. Of course, he might have chosen to just fire a different FBI director later, anyway, but that’s just speculation.

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