In his Tuesday briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer noted that President Trump was today interviewing two new candidates for the FBI director job ― former assistant attorney general Christopher Wray and former TSA administrator John Pistole. Prior to his overseas trip, Trump had been reviewing other candidates, including former senator Joe Lieberman, who was seen leaving the White House.
Trump and his team are proceeding as if this was just another normal personnel process. But responsible Members of Congress, and everyone else who cares about the integrity of our democracy, should demand that this FBI director process stop right now.
Trump must not be permitted to nominate a new FBI director until and unless he has been cleared of the allegation that his firing of James Comey was part of a scheme of obstruction of justice.
The evidence supporting that allegation is strong and familiar to most readers. On March 20, Comey confirmed in congressional testimony that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. On May 11, days after dismissing Comey, Trump admitted in an NBC interview, “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....’” On May 16, the New York Times reported that in a February Oval Office meeting, Trump asked Comey to shut down the federal probe of Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who is under investigation for, among other things, his ties to Russia. On May 19, the Times reported that Trump had told Russia’s foreign minister and its ambassador to the U.S. during an Oval Office meeting, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job... I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off....I’m not under investigation.” Then, on May 22, the Washington Post reported that in March, Trump asked his Director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to state publicly that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Numerous legal experts have stated that such a course of conduct, if true, could constitute obstruction of justice, an offense that might lead to impeachment, removal from office, and criminal conviction. The investigative mandate of newly-appointed special counsel Robert Mueller goes beyond probing for 2016 Trump-Russia collusion and charges Mueller with investigating “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” language that observers believe would include efforts to obstruct justice.
The investigation is ongoing, the evidence is not all in, and the press stories, while they collectively tell a compelling story, are not final proof of anyone’s guilt.
But if Trump’s firing of Comey was part of a scheme to obstruct justice, then it follows that Trump replacing Comey with an FBI director of his choice would complete that scheme, right in front of our eyes.
In normal circumstances, the nation surely needs a permanent, Senate-confirmed FBI director to oversee the critical law enforcement, counterterrorism, and counterintelligence work of the Bureau. But these are not normal circumstances. Andrew McCabe, the Deputy Director and Acting Director, of the FBI, is capable of overseeing the Bureau’s work while this crisis resolves. The costs of being without a permanent director are far less than the risks of letting Donald Trump, under a cloud, select the new leader of the FBI.
It would be a travesty for Trump to nominate, and for the Senate to confirm, a new FBI director until the issue of Trump’s conduct is resolved.
David Halperin, a lawyer, previously served on the staffs of the National Security Council and the Senate Intelligence Committee. This article also appears on Republic Report.