By firing James Comey, Trump is continuing the work Putin started

The Russians need no longer expend their energies trying to subvert the integrity of our political system. Now they have the US president to do that job

‘The reasons given for Comey’s dismissal fail the straight-face test.’ Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP

A brazen attack on the rule of law. There is no other way to describe Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. Recalling the dismissal of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, Democratic senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania rightly called the act “Nixonian”. But it is more than that.

Russia’s criminal interference in our presidential election represents one of the great scandals in our history. Whether there was actual collusion between the Russians and members of Trump’s election team is, at present, impossible to say.

We do know that the FBI had sufficient concerns to launch a probe. We know that the man named by then president-elect Trump to serve as his national security adviser , Michael Flynn, apparently sought to assure the Russians that they would suffer no adverse consequences as a result of their attack on our democracy.

Whether Flynn acted on his own renegade initiative or at the behest of Trump is just one of the many questions that remain unanswered. And these are the questions that Trump now hopes will never be answered.

The reasons given for Comey’s dismissal fail the straight-face test. If we are to accept the administration’s stated rationale, summarized in a fatuous memo by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, the FBI’s ongoing probe played no role in the firing. No, Comey had to go because of the “substantial damage” that FBI’s “reputation and credibility have suffered” as a result of Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.

The play is too clever by a half. Many Democrats continue to revile Comey for reopening the email probe in the waning days of the election. But the suggestion that Trump has belatedly come to share the concerns that have vexed Democrats is transparent in its cynicism.

Memo aside, this is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt to abort an ongoing investigation. Needless to say, such behavior does not suggest innocence. But that is hardly the point. What is most shocking is that by attacking an independent investigation into executive malfeasance, Trump promises to complete the task that the Russians started.

Even if innocent of collusion, Trump has done something almost as bad – he has undermined investigative independence, a mainstay of rule-based governance. The Russians need no longer expend their energies trying to subvert the integrity of our political system. Now they have our president to do that job.

Trump has made no secret of his admiration of the Erdoğans and Dutertes of the world, strong-arm leaders who make a mockery of constitutional governance.

Even as Russia-US relations have taken a nosedive in recent weeks, Trump has never so much as breathed a word of criticism of…

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