Please Stop Talking About Russia, Mr. President
Since President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, the White House has offered an evolving series of rationales for the decision. Trump himself offered a new one on Thursday -- several, actually -- but he didn't exactly clarify things.
In an interview with NBC News, after making the implausible claim that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been in turmoil under Comey's watch, Trump said: "And in fact when I decided to just do it" -- that is, to fire Comey -- "I said to myself, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won."
Both congressional intelligence committees and the FBI itself are investigating the "Russia thing," and clearly don't think it's made up. In fact, the bureau's acting director testified that same day that the probe -- which is examining whether Trump's associates colluded with Russia to sway the election -- is a "highly significant" one. Trump's refusal to accept this reality is unnerving.
More worrying still is that the president's statement comes awfully close to admitting that he fired Comey with the intent of impeding that investigation. Trump has unusual syntax and patterns of thought, so he may well have meant to convey something less sinister. Surely, the White House will be clarifying.
But an innocent explanation would be a lot easier to believe if Trump's people hadn't been dissembling and contradicting themselves for days on end about this matter and others. At the moment, the public has no idea what to believe about Comey's firing, and is left to ponder the worst, as rumors and conspiracies proliferate online.
Meanwhile, official Washington has largely come to a halt. The executive branch, already chaotic and understaffed, now appears fully overwhelmed. Legislative business has been all but paralyzed. The politics of simply finding a replacement for Comey look increasingly grim.
Yet the world hasn't stopped turning. U.S. leadership is still needed from North Korea to Syria to Afghanistan. Americans would like some reassurance about their health-care plans, and businesses would like some clarity about their taxes. Even leaving aside any kind of ambitious agenda, there are basic but crucial questions of how the government will avoid a shutdown or default.
The "Russia thing" is impeding progress on all this and more. It is threatening to overwhelm civic life entirely. The FBI must continue its investigation, free from political interference. Congress must establish an independent commission to look into the matter and publicly establish the facts. And the president? Maybe, just this once, he should consider interests beyond his own.
--Editors: Timothy Lavin, Michael Newman.
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