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Gehrke: Utah reps need to recognize Trump has tainted FBI probe

Published May 11, 2017 9:31 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It is, without a doubt, the most surreal episode of "The Apprentice " in history.

When President Donald Trump dropped his signature "You're fired!" line Tuesday on James Comey like the FBI director was Gary Busey whose team didn't wash enough cars, it turned all of Washington on its head.

The comparison to Richard Nixon's purge of the special counsel investigating his Watergate misdeeds was an easy one, but nobody in Nixon's day could have dreamed up the bizarre twists.



• The timing of the firing, for example, reportedly coming days after Comey asked for more resources to ramp up the investigation into Russia's ties to Team Trump;

• The ham-handed justification given, hanging it on Comey's public statements into the Hillary Clinton email probe from last July, and his reversal just before the election that Trump said "took a lot of guts" and probably helped Trump win the election;

• The fact that the FBI director found out he was the former FBI director on a television report and thinking it was a joke — although I did at first, too;

• And the White House press secretary huddling in the bushes before answering reporters' questions, while his deputy said in an interview that it's time for people to just "move on" from the Russia investigation.

It's too much.

Despite the utter weirdness, congressional reaction has been predictable, generally falling into the same partisan spin we're used to, outside of a small group of Republicans who were "troubled" by the move. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., for example, said Comey was a "public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee."

Utah's delegation — perhaps because they're still hoping Trump will roll back Bears Ears National Monument — was not about to rock the boat.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, one can assume under the influence of pain pills, ended up asking the Department of Justice inspector general to investigate the firing.

It's something, but a half measure at most from the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. Imagine how different the response would be if President Clinton had done the same thing.

A spokesman for Sen. Orrin Hatch said the senator "wishes it would have been handled differently," but believes the Intelligence Committee's investigation will continue "unabated."

Sen. Mike Lee said that "Comey had become the issue" and while the timing may have been problematic, "the timing for things like this are always tough."

Stewart went right to the rote talking points. Comey, he told NPR, had lost the confidence, "frankly on both sides of the aisle. … It was probably appropriate to make a change."

Sound familiar? It's pretty much what Trump tweeted earlier in the day.

"Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Republican and Democrat alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me!"

The big question is: Where do we go from here?

At the very least, Trump has bought his administration weeks, if not months, of headaches and horrible headlines that will be fueled even further by the president not having a filter between his brain and his Twitter feed.

The White House will have to try to find a replacement for Comey and, assuming they manage to not drunkenly tumble into another manure pile, the Senate hearings for the new director will be brutal.

I could be wrong. Maybe Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee will let Trump's nominee glide through the hearings.

Ha! Right.

More fundamentally, it's ridiculous to believe that anyone could have any confidence in the new director hand-picked by Trump completing a thorough and impartial investigation into the conduct of Trump's advisers — including now having to answer whether the firing could have obstructed that very investigation.

The only solution, it seems, would be to move the investigation outside of the FBI, either to an independent counsel or, as Sen. John McCain has been pushing for, a select committee established by Congress.

Stewart said he would at least consider whether there needed to be an independent counsel or some outside investigation.

"I actually have mixed feelings about that, and I'm one of the few on the Intelligence Committee who do," Stewart said. "I said I would consider it and that's more than a lot of people will."

Until Tuesday, Republicans could have argued with a straight face that the FBI could have done a thorough and impartial job with the Russia investigation. But now that Trump has intervened, the balance has shifted.

It's time for Stewart and the rest of the Utah delegation to set aside their partisan agenda and put the good of the country first.

gehrke@sltrib.com

 

 

 

 

 

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