As conflicting accounts of what led to James Comey’s firing linger and questions remain as to which equally troubling account of the dinner President Donald Trump had with the then-FBI director are accurate, one constitutional law expert has declared the developments “staggering” and evidence of “a series of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Speaking Thursday to MSNBC‘s Lawrence O’Donnell, Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe said that Trump directly asking Comey if he was under investigation, as the president indicated to NBC‘s Lester Holt during a “kryptonite” interview, “is much worse than just a conflict of interest.”
“You’re essentially dangling in front of the person who’s supposed to be investigating the chaos swirling around you, and perhaps you, you’re basically saying, ‘If you will assure me that I’m not going to be under investigation, then maybe I’ll keep you on. We’ll see what happens.’ It’s essentially the language of bribery. It’s the language of the underworld, of racketeering, not the language of a president who is supposed to be enforcing the rule of law,” he said.
“It’s staggering—for all the bizarre things that have happened in these 112 or 113 days, this is really like the 13th chime of a clock,” Tribe continued.
As for the New York Times reporting on presumably the same one-one-one event which indicates Trump asked Comey to pledge his loyalty to the president, Tribe again said, “It’s staggering. That is clearly, on its face, obstruction of justice.”
“In this case, what loyalty means […] is ‘Can I count on you to not to make me a target of this investigation?'” Tribe said. “That’s clearly an impermissible question. So either Trump’s own account of the discussion is true, in which case he’s guilty of obstruction of justice in one respect. Or much more likely Comey’s account is true […] in which case again Trump is guilty again of attempting to suborn obstruction of justice. Either way, as with the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon, this is a series of high crimes and misdemeanors regardless of whether Trump was or was not part of a collusive plot with Russia to steal an American election.”
According to Tribe, “we are in a situation where the only way to avoid constitutional crisis is for members of Congress to basically get a spine or ‘grow a pair’ and really stand up to their responsibilities to the law. We need an independent counsel, but we also need an independent Congress.”
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Writing jointly with former White House ethics lawyers Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, the trio argues that the sudden firing of Comey—for which Trump gave “‘laughably pretextual” excuses—is “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.”
They further write that “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.”