In the Wake of Comey's Firing, Democrats Need to Step Up

It might not be easy, but it's time to do whatever it takes to demand accountability for Trump

Any FBI director candidate who would be acceptable to Trump wouldn’t do the job without risking being fired. Credit: Ron Sachs - Pool/Getty

Democrats should know better, but for some reason they keep floating Merrick Garland as a potential replacement for James Comey as FBI director. You remember Merrick Garland, right? When Republicans refused to give President Obama's choice to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court even a hearing, let alone a vote, they foreshadowed the bare-knuckle tactics that have come to define the Trump-era GOP.

It was a Republican, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who first posed that Garland take Comey's place. But Democrats like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep. Elijah Cummings and former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers have embraced the terrible idea.

It's not just the obvious: Garland's appointment to the FBI would mean abandoning his lifetime appointment on the D.C. Circuit Court, probably the second-most important court in the nation after SCOTUS. Giving a powerful seat like that to Trump  – who already has plenty of space on the federal bench to fill – would be needlessly self-destructive.

But just as important, if not more, is that Democrats don't just hand Trump and his party a quick bipartisan victory in the fight to replace James Comey.

Trump's firing of Comey is perhaps the most naked sign yet of his corruption. Trump fired an FBI director who was conducting an investigation into his campaign's ties to a foreign power that interfered in our presidential election. We don't know yet what that investigation will reveal about Trump or top aides like Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn – both fired over contacts and ties to Russia – but we do know Trump fired Comey because of the investigation.

That wasn't the story the White House gave the first go-round; it claimed a memo from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, was the impetus for the firing. But Trump later admitted he had already planned to fire Comey, and told NBC's Lester Holt, "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."

The president of the United States fired the director of the FBI because it was investigating him. No matter what you think about James Comey (and like any Hillary Clinton supporter, I have plenty of negative thoughts about him), that thought should send chills up your spine.

What's more, according to a report in The New York Times, Trump asked Comey to the White House for dinner early in his term and asked the FBI director to pledge his personal loyalty to the president. The White House disputes this, but this White House is also known to lie. If that exchange did happen, it goes without saying the director of the FBI has no business declaring loyalty to the president; his loyalty is to the Constitution and the law – or it ought to be anyway. And it's clear Comey's failure to do what Trump wanted him to do contributed to his firing.

Trump has sent a powerful message to the next FBI head: Stay in line, or I'll show you the door. How can we possibly expect the next director to conduct a thorough investigation of the president when we know it could mean his or her job?

Of course, some Democrats in Congress – always hoping to compromise, always expecting Republicans to abandon years of scorched-earth politics and join them in the mythical land of reasonableness – would jump at the chance to find a bipartisan pick to replace Comey. But before they sign on the dotted line, maybe they should ask an important question: Should Donald Trump be allowed to appoint the next leader of the bureau at all?

Trump demands personal loyalty from an FBI director, a huge ethical violation and a roadblock for anyone who wants to conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this administration. That means any candidate acceptable to Trump can't do the job without risking being fired.

So does the country go without a new director? That's one option; Acting Director Andrew McCabe could continue to do the job for now. But the people who want to hold Trump accountable need to see this as an opportunity.

It's time for a special prosecutor to conduct a truly independent investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Why not insist that any appointment to fill Comey's job be contingent on that special prosecutor being named? And demand the name for the new director (not a Democratic judge, come on) come from Congress rather than the president, who is utterly compromised on this issue?

It won't be easy. The FBI director requires just a majority vote in the Senate, meaning Democrats would have to pull a few Republican votes along with them. Likely they'd have to threaten to shut down other business in the Senate to find the leverage to get it done.

But if this isn't the moment to put everything on the table, what is? The president has admitted to firing his FBI director to obstruct an investigation. That demands extraordinary measures. If Democrats in Congress are ever going to hold Trump accountable for his corruption, now is the time. Do your job.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and others react to FBI Director James Comey's firing. Watch here.