In Trump’s Firing of James Comey, Echoes of Watergate

In dramatically casting aside James B. Comey, President Trump fired the man who may have helped make him president — and the man who potentially most threatened the future of his presidency.

Not since Watergate has a president dismissed the person leading an investigation bearing on him, and Mr. Trump’s decision late Tuesday afternoon drew instant comparisons to the “Saturday Night Massacre” in October 1973, when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the so-called third-rate burglary that would eventually bring Nixon down.

In his letter firing Mr. Comey, the F.B.I. director, Mr. Trump made a point of noting that Mr. Comey had three times told the president that he was not under investigation, Mr. Trump’s way of pre-emptively denying that his action was self-interested. But in fact, he had plenty at stake, given that Mr. Comey had said publicly that the bureau was investigating Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and whether any associates of Mr. Trump’s campaign were coordinating with Moscow.

The move exposed Mr. Trump to the suspicion that he has something to hide and could strain his relations with fellow Republicans who may be wary of defending him when they do not have all the facts. Many Republicans issued cautious statements on Tuesday, but a few expressed misgivings about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and called for a special congressional investigation or independent commission to take over from the House and Senate Intelligence Committees now looking into the Russia episode.

The appointment of a successor to Mr. Comey could touch off a furious fight since anyone Mr. Trump would choose would automatically come under suspicion. A confirmation fight could easily distract Mr. Trump’s White House at a time when it wants the Senate to focus on passing legislation to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

John D. Podesta, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had recommended the dismissal. “The attorney general who said he recused himself on all the Russia matters recommended the firing of the F.B.I. director in charge of investigating the Russia matters,” he said.

While Mr. Trump said he acted at the urging of Mr. Sessions, he had left little doubt about his personal feelings toward Mr. Comey or the Russia investigation in recent days. “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?” he wrote on Twitter on Monday.


Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor for the Watergate case, speaking to the news media outside the United States District Court in Washington in October 1973, the month President Richard M. Nixon ordered him fired. Credit Associated Press

The Watergate comparison was unavoidable. When Mr. Cox, the special prosecutor, subpoenaed Nixon for copies of White House tapes, the president ordered that he be fired. Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused and resigned instead. The third-ranking Justice Department official, Solicitor General Robert H. Bork, complied with Mr. Nixon’s order and fired Mr. Cox.

Read the complete article on The New York Times web site.

Jeff Sessions fiasco

Donald Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions twice spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States during the presidential campaign. Sessions is another Trump appointee raising questions about Trump and Russia connection.

The Washington Post, citing justice department officials, first reported that Sessions met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak once in September 2016, when US intelligence officials were investigating Russian interference in the presidential election, and once in the summer of that year.

It was communications with Kislyak that led to the firing of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in February.

A spokeswoman for Sessions confirmed that the meetings took place, but provided a statement from the attorney general saying they were not related to the election campaign.

Sessions, a former senator from Alabama who was among Trump’s early and most vocal surrogates on the campaign trail, did not disclose the conversations when asked under oath during his Senate confirmation hearing in early 2017 about possible contacts between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.

Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, called for Sessions’ resignation. “After lying under oath to Congress about his own communications with the Russians, the attorney general must resign,” she said.

“Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country and must resign. There must be an independent, bipartisan, outside commission to investigate the Trump political, personal and financial connections to the Russians.”

The White House swiftly rejected the reports as an effort to undermine Trump’s speech before Congress on Tuesday night, which was reviewed favourably by the US media despite signalling no substantive shift in policy.

“This is the latest attack against the Trump administration by partisan Democrats,” a senior administration official said, according to CNN.

“Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate armed services committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”

When Sessions was asked during his 10 January testimony to the Senate judiciary committee how he would respond if he learned of communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials leading up to the election, he said he was “not aware of any of those activities”.

He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

rump’s friendly posture toward Russia has sounded alarms across the US and frequently proved a source of consternation among members of his own party.

The president has routinely praised his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Following his victory in November, Trump nominated Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state – a former CEO of ExxonMobil with close ties to Russia.

Trump’s administration has also refused to categorically rule out lifting sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration, prompting bipartisan efforts to ratify those sanctions into law.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump administration rescinds transgender students’ bathroom protections

Protests as Trump revokes guidelines on transgender bathrooms.

The Trump administration has withdrawn a piece of federal guidance requiring transgender students to have unfettered access to bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity, in a move that could embolden many schools to restrict trans rights.

In doing so, the administration has signaled that it does not necessarily interpret current federal civil rights protections as prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.

A joint letter released by the departments of justice and education on Wednesday cited the legal battle on this question as justification for rescinding the guidance, “in order to further and more completely consider the legal issues involved”.

“In addition, the Departments believe that … there must be due regard for the primary role of the States and local school districts in establishing education policy,” the letter added.

The Obama administration issued the guidance in May 2016, in response to growing confusion and controversy over how schools should accommodate transgender students. The letter released on Wednesday left one major piece of that guidance intact: a recognition that schools bear some responsibility to prevent bullying and harassment of transgender students.

LGBT rights groups on Wednesday assailed the administration.

“This is a mean-spirited attack on hundreds of thousands of students who simply want to be their true selves and be treated with dignity while attending school,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “These young people already face incredible hurdles in their pursuit of education and acceptance. With a pen stroke, the Trump Administration effectively sanctions the bullying, ostracizing, and isolation of these children, putting their very lives in danger.”

David Dinielli, deputy legal director for the Souther Poverty Law Center, said in a statement that by rescinding the guidance “the administration has contributed to the baseless hysteria and panic that puts so many vulnerable transgender youth at risk”.

The White House’s expected move comes one week after Jeff Sessions, the newly appointed attorney general, quietly withdrew the Department of Justice’s participation in the Obama guidance’s legal defence. More than 20 states have challenged the guidance, which applies to all federally funded public schools, in federal court, and the guidance has been blocked by a federal judge. The justice department is no longer asking for a stay of that judge’s decision.

Sessions, who has long been hostile to LGBT rights, reportedly fought for Wednesday’s order over the objections of Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary. The report, by the New York Times, claimed that DeVos asked to preserve protections for students against bullying but was overruled by the president, who sided with his attorney general.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer insisted on Wednesday that DeVos was onboard.

But on Wednesday, a tweet from Devos suggested otherwise:

Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVosED)

I consider protecting all students, including #LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.

February 23, 2017

States that are suing to block the guidance have called it an intrusion of the federal government and a threat to the bodily privacy of students who are not transgender.

LGBT advocates say there is no evidence of transgender-inclusive policies causing privacy invasions for other students.

James Esseks, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT litigation, said in May: “There have been no disruptions, increases in public safety incidents, nor invasions of privacy related to protections for transgender people. While the Obama administration is being sued, the real targets here are vulnerable young people and adults who simply seek to live their lives free from discrimination when they go to school, work or the restroom.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site here.