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By firing FBI chief, Trump picked fight with wrong agency

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By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
Washington Merry-Go-Round

Saturday, May 20, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump is learning the hard way that even if you’re the leader of the Western world, you take on the FBI at your peril. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey opens a Pandora’s box of woes for the White House centered on the looming question of obstruction of justice.

Skilled in the ways of Washington, Comey wrote “memcons,” contemporary notes of his conversations with Trump. One has the president saying to Comey in a private meeting, “I hope you can let this go,” meaning the FBI’s investigation of former National Security Advisor, General Flynn, and his ties to Russia.

Some legal analysts say Trump’s words and possibly his tone of voice suggest an “ask,” not a command, which would skirt the issue of obstruction. But when the person asking the question is your boss, it’s not asking, it’s telling — and that is obstruction of justice. After all, was King Henry II asking or ordering when he infamously said, “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest [the Archbishop of Canterbury]?”

Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and then FBI Director Comey when he saw them as bearers of bad news, but now his firing days are over — unless, of course — he ignores the certain consequences and runs amuck.

Two days after the New York Times reported the existence of Comey’s memo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the appointment of Robert Mueller, former FBI director, as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation.

Mueller is highly regarded in Washington for his no-nonsense leadership of the FBI for 12 years, beginning in 2001 with the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The White House only learned of Mueller’s appointment as it was being announced.

Mueller was in the hospital room with Comey in March 2004, when they stood up to the Bush White House trying to get a gravely ill Attorney General, John Ashcroft, to reauthorize a torture program that was illegal.

Mueller is credited with re-orienting the FBI to the counter-terrorism challenge it faces today and professionalizing the agency to where it is more trusted than at any time in the recent past.

There’s a saying that you should never take on someone who buys ink by the barrel. Similarly, you should never take on someone who has a dossier on everyone.

That’s how the FBI’s founding director, J. Edgar Hoover stayed at the helm for almost 50 years, from 1924 until his death in 1972. Hoover was a flawed and bigoted individual, who had his agents stalk Martin Luther King, Jr., and other controversial figures to compile information about their private lives, prompting Congress in 1976 to pass a law limiting an FBI director’s time in office to 10 years.

A reformed and reinvigorated FBI emerged, but its access to information only increased with the advent of the Internet and various telecommunication advances. And although Comey and Mueller are diametrically opposite of Hoover, their power, like Hoover’s, derives from information.

Their Trump dossier must be huge — huge enough to make the president wonder why he ever wanted to be president and why he wanted to risk opening his business dealings to advanced scrutiny. He must now know he picked a fight with the wrong federal agency.

U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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