We begin today’s roundup with The New York Times editorial board and its piece on the “Trump-Russia Nexus,” a detailed accounting of Trump’s ties to Russia:
Mr. Trump and his associates can cry themselves hoarse that there is neither smoke nor fire here. But all in all, the known facts suggest an unusually extensive network of relationships with a major foreign power. Anyone who cares about the credibility of the American electoral process should want a thorough investigation of whether and how Russia interfered in the election and through whom.
Laurence Tribe, Richard Painter and Norman Eisen at USA Today have an important piece up:
If President Trump’s shockingly sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey had violated some statute or constitutional provision, our judicial branch could easily have remedied that misstep. What the president did was worse. It was a challenge to the very premises of our system of checks and balances precisely because it violated no mere letter of the law but its essential spirit. No one, not even a president, is above the law. And thus no public official, high or petty, can simply fire those our system trusts to investigate and remedy that official’s possible bribery, treason, or other disloyalty to the nation. [...]
In the end, the most important task is to credibly track down the details of the global financial entanglements that have ensnared this administration from the outset, and that have led to litigation against Trump under the Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution. That is likely the key to unlocking the mystery of what underlying conduct is so terrible that the Trump administration is willing to tie itself into knots and disgrace itself on the world stage to conceal its conduct.
The Economist calls on Congress to do its job:
Congress must now uphold constitutional norms. Any successor to Mr Comey nominated by the president must face the most rigorous examination of their impartiality. But that will not be enough. What is needed is either an independent commission, along the lines of the one set up to inquire into the events leading up to September 11th 2001, or a bipartisan select committee to investigate the Russia allegations. Neither would have prosecutorial powers, but they could have substantial investigatory resources and be able to subpoena witnesses. There is no reason why prosecutions could not follow once they had reported. Principled Senate Republicans, such as Richard Burr, Ben Sasse and John McCain, are troubled by what the removal of Mr Comey portends. It is high time for them and others to put their country before their party.
Jim Hoagland at The Washington Post:
The Trump presidency now poses an existential threat to many of America’s most vital institutions. He has tried to tear down to his own tawdry level the intelligence community, the FBI, the media and the federal judiciary. (Congress has been spared only because the Republican leadership lacks the moral courage to draw Trump’s fire.) Just as he is at war with himself, Trump is at war with the nation he is supposed to lead.
I had never particularly credited the idea that Trump or his campaign operatives openly colluded with Putin’s effort to draw them into the muck of the corruption the Russian leader inhabits and seeks to spread. They could not have been that stupid, I have been telling myself. Nor could I imagine that Trump was so dependent on Russian money that he could be compromised by Moscow.
But it is hard now to find other credible explanations for the president’s serial misbehavior and shameless, reckless actions. He seems eager to provoke moral outrage that will confirm his self-image of excelling by being the worst of the bad boys.
Scott Bixby at The Daily Beast takes a look at Trump’s obsession with loyalty above all:
President Donald Trump once described himself as “like, this great loyalty freak.” But to former employees of the nation’s top law enforcement service, it’s his apparent demands for personal loyalty from the nation’s top cop that are freakish. [...]
Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a former FBI special agent, told The Daily Beast that the report is straight out of the playbooks of the authoritarian strongmen of whom Trump appears to be such a fan. “This loyalty pledge is completely out of line,” Watts said. “The FBI director is given a 10-year term for this exact reason—to prevent the nation’s top law enforcement officer from being put under undue influence based on political pressures.” If the Times report is true, Watts continued, “Trump’s loyalty pledge tactic comes straight from the worst aspects of authoritarians and mob bosses who see their rule above the rule of law.”
Donald Trump’s most consistent belief – even more consistent than his skepticism of international trade, which has waned on occasion – is his worship of power. He is not merely willing to do business with despots, as most presidents have been. He admires them because of, not despite, their despotism. His repeated refusal during the campaign to accept the legitimacy of the election (“rigged”), his promises to jail his opponent, and his intermingling of state power and personal profit all suggested a threat to the health of the republic. Now that threat has arrived. And if Republicans in Congress continue to cover for his actions, the damage to the health of American government may be longstanding.
Philip Allen Lacovara, former U.S. deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department who served as counsel to Watergate special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, says the Watergate comparisons are appropriate, but that the DOJ and FBI failed to do the right thing here:
Unlike their predecessors four decades earlier, Sessions and Rosenstein failed to recognize that they have a higher public duty than merely to implement the president’s will, even if Trump’s action was technically within his constitutional power. [...] After Nixon resigned, there were congratulatory comments that “the system worked.” But this assessment was overly simplistic. Now, as then, the system works only if the right people in the system do the right thing when deciding whether to roll over or to stand up.
And, on a final note, Eugene Robinson dives into what looks like a cover up:
The only way to make sense of this week’s stunning events is to conclude that there is something that President Trump desperately wants to hide. [...] If this were a criminal trial, prosecutors would allege that the president was displaying “consciousness of guilt” — that he was acting in a way no innocent person would act. Indeed, the only other president to try to head off an investigation by firing the chief investigator was Richard Nixon. [...]
I do believe in mere coincidences, up to a point. And I know that conspiracy theories usually turn out to be wrong. But I can see no explanation for Trump’s bizarre attitude toward the allegations of Russian meddling other than a desire to conceal something. [...]
If Trump wanted to end this scrutiny by firing Comey, he may have had the opposite effect. Ask yourself one question: Have you ever seen a coverup with no underlying crime? Neither have I.