Danielle McLaughlin: Trump-Russia special prosecutor - history repeating?
OPINION: Deputy Attorney General James Comey raced to the hospital bed of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft. Not too far behind him was FBI Director, Robert Mueller.
It was March 10, 2004. The men had learned that two other Bush administration officials – White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez and Chief of Staff Andy Card – were also en route to try to persuade Ashcroft, at that point in intensive care, to reauthorise a post-September 11 warrantless wire-tapping program targeting US persons believed to be involved in terrorism activities.
The Department of Justice, which Comey now led due to Ashcroft's illness, had determined that the program was illegal. Mueller and Comey were determined to halt it.
In subsequent congressional testimony, Comey's recounting of the hospital showdown was disputed by the Bush White House. But Robert Mueller produced his contemporaneous and detailed notes of the confrontation, and Comey's version stood. Both men had threatened to resign if the administration renewed the wire-tapping law in its current form. Bush backed off.
There is an historic circularity in the appointment this week of Mueller as a special prosecutor to oversee the FBI's investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.
Mueller's investigation will not only extend to the president's abrupt firing of James Comey, but the contemporaneous notes of Comey's meetings and conversations with Trump, which reportedly reflect Trump's request that Comey pledge loyalty to him, and most explosively, that Comey "let go" the investigation into General Michael Flynn, a former Trump official who was earning money from at least one foreign state while having access to all of America's secrets as Trump's national security adviser.
We may confirm the existence of, and know the content of the Comey memos early next month, when Comey has indicated he will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Having worked across the table from federal prosecutors and FBI agents, I have a high expectation that the Comey memos do exist. I also suspect they are meticulous.
A well-regarded straight shooter, who threatened resignation rather than enforce a bad law 13 years ago, he would have been immensely concerned about a president who made improper entreaties over an ongoing investigation. As much as Trump is a political outsider who has eschewed numerous norms and traditions relating to campaigning and governing, there are some places you just cannot go without consequences.
The president will be out of the country next week visiting allies in Europe and the Middle East. It will render him and his team less able to control the Comey narrative.
Is this the beginning of the end for President Trump? It depends. Impeachment is, at its heart, a political act. So long as he has a Republican congress behind him that can push through its legislative objectives, Trump will probably be safe from impeachment barring clear evidence of a high crime.
But if this investigation becomes an albatross around the necks of Republicans, dragging down their agenda and future election chances, they may jettison Trump for a more-predictable successor.
Follow Danielle on Twitter: @MsDMcLaughlin
- Sunday Star Times