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What James Comey Teaches Us About the Checks and Balances System

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Note: This article does not necessarily represent the views of the NWYJ, only the views of the author

On May 8th President Trump fired (now former) FBI Director James Comey after the Deputy Attorney General’s recommendation to. The exact cause of the firing is not certain, but many have been pointing to two main reasons. The first reason, that is cited in the Deputy Attorney General’s letter to the President, is how Comey handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server use during her time serving as Secretary of State under President. The problem in the handling of this investigation is that, as the Deputy Attorney General put it, “the director [of the FBI] was wrong to usurp the Attorney General’s authority on July 5, 2016, and announce his conclusion that the case should be closed without prosecution”. Some critics have been pointing to the fact that Hillary Clinton was the other Trump’s opponent while running for President, and the email investigation would have likely hurt Clinton’s reputation and chance of winning, and that Trump is angry because of this.

I agree with the Deputy Attorney General that former FBI Director James Comey should not have simply decided to recommend to close the Clinton case and recommend to not prosecute Clinton in the email scandal. Part of the mission of the FBI is to “uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States” according to Department of Justice’s website. In order to do this they must make sure that EVERYONE is following the laws which were made to keep the nation safe, and the FBI should prosecute EVERYONE who breaks the law, unless the FBI has zero evidence to use in Court. If the FBI has even a slight chance of successfully convicting a criminal in court, they should try so, as that is, after all, their job. There are multiple problems with Comey and the Clinton Investigation. Everyone means everyone, including politicians, and not just some politicians, but all. The FBI had plenty of evidence that Clinton used a private email server when she shouldn’t have, moreover Comey has called Clinton “extremely careless” while handling classified information. There is every reason for Comey to prosecute Clinton, and no reason to do otherwise. It is clear that Comey is at fault here, but there are others also at fault. One person who is also at fault is Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as she should not have simply said that she was going to do what Comey recommended. Lynch should instead have questioned Comey for why he decided to close the case, she should not have allowed for the case to be closed until Comey had left no doubt in her mind that the case, should indeed, be closed. ATG Lynch had blind trust on Comey. While some may argue that the FBI is supposed to be an independent agency so blind trust is indeed okay, they Attorney General should also make sure that the FBI is doing their work, as otherwise there is no-one left to check the FBI. Independent the FBI should be, but not checked by anyone is something the FBI should not be, as it simply goes against the basic constitutional principle of checks and balances. The Clinton is a simple example of the Justice Department failing to serve the American people and the FBI failing to do their work.

But perhaps Comey had learned his lesson from the Clinton Scandal, which may be why he was pushing so hard in the Russian Interference in the 2016 election. The Russian Interference in the American Election case is the prime example of the FBI staying as an independent agency serving the American People in a time of political mishap. This is what the FBI is supposed to do, hold the government and the people accountable. The FBI was meant to be, and is, a healthy thing for democracy, but the rules at the core of the organizational structure, and how Trump responded to the FBI doing their job, well, not so much.

The way an FBI Director is appointed is practical in theory, but not in reality. Currently, the FBI Director is nominated by the President, and then they must be approved by the Senate. Like any judge, the FBI Director geos through the Senate Judiciary Committee. The President nominates the FBI Director, meaning that the President can choose a nominee who will likely be bias in favor of him/her. Of course, the Senate has to approve the nominee and the senators are unlikely to approve a dishonest FBI Director because it may make their constituents angry but the problem is that if the executive branch and legislative branch are both controlled by one party, that party can choose a FBI Director who is a part of their party. Even though a 20th century law tried to stop partisan FBI Directors by making their terms 10 years, so they will not stick with the President who nominated them, a bias FBI Director is helpful to a party because if they lose the next election as the FBI Director may be lenient to that party. Moreover an FBI Director can stay with the same President for 8 years, which is long enough that the FBI Director can cause a large impact. Another problem with the approval process of an FBI Director is that the FBI Director nominee goes through the Senate Judiciary Committee (as previously mentioned), and this step is simply flawed. The purpose of having the nominee go through the Senate Judiciary Committee is to make sure that an unfit, dishonest nominee does not have a possibility of being approved. The idea seems logical, but there is one Major flaw, that is that the Committee is not barred from reviewing the nominee’s political positions. In fact, the Committee is known to often look at the political positions of the candidates.  Such a step, a step that corrupts the selection, a step that makes qualified candidates get ignored, such a step that goes against one of the major purposes of the FBI (stopping a corrupt government), is simply hurtful for democracy. Plus, the chances of an unqualified FBI Director being approved by the Senate is practically none, Senators are smart enough to know such simple info. It is ok to have the Senate Judiciary Committee examine the judicial background of the nominee, but anything else is simply unnecessary. The FBI Director’s nomination process is simply not what a health democracy like the US deserves, wants, or should have to deal with. Luckily, politicians have been smart and avoided these, as even top GOP Senators have called for an “apolitical” FBI Director, so luckily the American people may have just avoided a trust crisis.

Now not only is the structure of the confirmation rigged, the fact that the President of the United States can fire the FBI Director, the person in charge of keeping the President accountable, is absurd. This practically makes the FBI not effective at keeping the government accountable. If the FBI Director is fired by the President WHILE investigating the President himself, like what happened with Trump, the President SHOULD be impeached, as obviously something is being hidden by the President. If the FBI Director screwed up on something else that is very important at the same time, it may make sense, but such is not a case for Comey, and yet no major steps have been taken by Congress to inquire Trump on his timing. Moreover, Kellyanne Conway stated on CNN it is inappropriate to question the timing, but the press is supposed to question the government, making it even more likely that something is being hidden.

Now not only is Trump firing Comey messed up in and of itself, the way Comey was fired is unethical and simply contradictory. Comey was fired when “talking to agents when news of his firing appeared on television tuned into news channels” according to Fox News. It is simply immoral to fire someone while they are doing their job working hard more than 2,000 miles away from their office, and to hear that you have been fired through the media without any warning just sucks and is an immoral punishment. But Trump’s firing was not only done in an immoral way, the firing letter was contradictory, and this very contradiction makes it unhealthy for democracy. The letter has a part where Trump states “I appreciate you informing me, on three spate occasions, that I am not under investigation”, then goes on to say “It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission”. It is not appropriate for the President to thank the FBI Director for not investigating him, as the FBI is supposed to be an independent agency, and it is hard to be independent if you have non-professional relations with the FBI Director. Furthermore, Comey WAS trying to restore public trust in the FBI doing such an elaborate Russian investigation. Had the FBI taken the possibility of an enemy messing up the election of our representative government lightly, public outbreak would be certain and justified, but that is not the case.

Trump’s firing of Comey is contradictory and simply unacceptable. The public should be surprised by such an act, and should respond to such an irresponsible action by pressing their representatives to keep heavy investigations on Trump and Russia going, and call for an FBI Director that will be honest and “apolitical”, a director that will “restore public trust and confidence” in the FBI and will the “independent” back into the FBI.

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