By Katherine Wang
President Donald Trump’s dramatic firing of FBI director James Comey has aroused a political explosion of both anger and approval in the American public.
On Tuesday, May 9th, President Trump fired Comey as a result of several factors. Trump claimed that it was due to Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton email investigation, but the press argued that it arose from personal tensions in Trump and Comey’s relationship and the FBI’s Russian inquiry. Although the relative importance of each of these factors is still being debated, they are predominantly agreed upon by the majority to be the main causes of Comey’s dismissal.
In a letter written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with respect to Comey’s dismissal, Rosenstein wrote that Comey’s termination was due to his recommendation that Clinton not face criminal charges for her private email server while she served as Secretary of State. In addition, Comey chose not to turn over his findings concerning Clinton’s email to federal prosecutors. This incident set off bitter tensions between Trump and Comey, with Trump arguing that Clinton was being shielded by a powerful and rigged system. Furthermore, Trump’s administration suspects that Comey has been investigating into US-Russia relations. Although the truth behind this factor is still being heavily debated, it is one of the largest impacts behind the constitutionality of this dismissal.
However, the majority of citizens are not nearly concerned with the reasons behind Comey’s dismissal as much as their concern with the broader impacts on the extent of presidential powers and Constitutional implications.
For years, Comey has been viewed as an independent, non-political leader of a crucial government agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Trump’s firing of Comey has provoked to suspicions over the president’s executive powers. If Trump finds a more favorable -- someone who is more submissive and less independent -- FBI director, then suspicions will arise regarding his intent to co-opt an investigative team in his favor. Any slight attempt to weaken the checks and balances system will lead to a public outrage over the accountability of the Supreme Court and Congress to investigate the incident.
Comey’s dismissal has also precipitated in debates regarding the constitutionality of a president’s ability to fire the person who is responsible for investigating the legality of his campaigns and various activities. The day following the firing, a debate ensued among law professors. Some professors, such as ACLU’s legal director, argued that it was a grave public concern when the dismissal of the FBI director correlated with the FBI’s criminal investigation into Russia. Others argued that the president was constitutionally justified to fire principal officers; in other words, Trump’s actions did not violate the Constitution itself.
There have been many parallels drawn between President Trump’s Comey firing and Richard Nixon’s firing of Archibald Cox in the “Saturday Night Massacre”. In 1973, President Nixon fired the Watergate Special Prosecutor Cox in order to cover up his political scandal. This historical precedent led to a constitutional crisis and public displays of anger; in a similar manner, Trump’s dismissal of Comey could lead to questions concerning his possible relations with Russia.
While the majority of the public appears angered and suspicious at Trump’s sudden timing and decision to fire Comey, there are many others who express their approval. In a recent Wall Street Journal poll, 29 percent of citizens approve of Trump’s decision, 38 percent disapprove, and 32 percent hold no opinion. Those who approve of Comey’s dismissal believe that it will maintain the integrity of the FBI and bring a fresh, new start to a crucial agency.
The debate between those who oppose and support Trump’s firing of Comey has extended to politicians and citizens alike. Unfortunately, this debate brings to light the a democracy’s worst fear: distrust in the populous. If the people are doubting those in elected positions, it will cause more populist sentiment -- the exact reason behind Trump’s election in the first place. Trump’s campaign as an outsider is evidently being questioned as a result of his relations with Russia. Ultimately, questions concerning the Constitution and executive power will inevitably emerge as the forefront of a democratic government’s response to an impending executive crisis.