Photo: Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor appointed
to investigate Richard Nixon, was abruptly fired by the then-president
in what came to be called the "Saturday Night Massacre."
By now, most of us have heard: President Donald Trump has fired FBI Director James Comey, allegedly over his handling of the Clinton email investigation.
But Comey wasn't just involved in investigating Clinton's emails; he was in the middle of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. president election--including Russian ties to Trump and his campaign-- when Comey was abruptly fired. In fact, days earlier, Comey had requested more funds to complete the Russia inquiry.
Now, Trump can appoint his own FBI Director to lead an investigation into Russian influence the way Trump would want it to be conducted. That's hardly democratic.
This decision has dark implications and draws some not-unfair comparisons to the days of former President Richard Nixon, who fired a special prosecutor tasked with investigating the very case that ultimately got Nixon impeached. Rep. John Conyers called the firing of Comey "the TuesdayNight Massacre," in reference to Nixon's actions. It was a very apt reminder of the last time we found ourselves in similar circumstances.
But then again, as some of the foremost historians on Nixon have pointed out, Nixon never fired an FBI director.
What Trump has been doing is definitely not right. He cannot continue to fire people who are investigating him and others in his administration – people like former Interim Attorney General Sally Yates and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The person who holds the highest office in the land must be accountable under the letter of the law.
If we do not stand up against this slow erosion of government accountability and independence of government branches, we will slip into dangerously undemocratic territory. Millions of Americans have never experienced this in their lifetimes. It's supposed to be something that only happens in other countries, ones immigrants flee from to seek refuge in the United States.
Our country, too, has had dark flirtations with authoritarianism. But time and time again, when faced with threats to democracy like McCarthyism, We the People have prevailed-- and we must do so again.
It starts slowly, incidiously, with small changes. But We the People must stand up-- the letter of the law applies to all of us, presidents and ordinary citizens alike.
Both Democrats and Republicans have called for an immediate appointment of an independent special prosecutor or the creation of an Independent Bipartisan Commission to ensure a fair and impartial investigation. Mark my words, we will not have a fair or impartial proceeding if the very people under investigation can hand-pick the people who investigate them.
We do not have a petition for you to sign. Instead, we ask you to contact the very people who, under the powers granted them by the Constitution, have the most influence on determining how these investigations are conducted.
Please, take a moment to call your Senators: tell them what you think of Comey's firing and demand that they call for a independent special prosecutor. The Capitol Switchboard is (202) 224-3121. You can also find individual Senators' phone numbers in the Congressional directory listed alphabetically by state.
Want to join the movement to sound the alarm to protect democracy? Join MoveOn and many other great organizations at the White House action happening now, and find a 5 PM event at a Senator's office near you: moveon.org/soundthealarm.
Thank you for all that you do.
See you out there in the fight.
Dr. Gabriela Lemus
President, Progressive Congress Action Fund