President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday. Photo by Rich Girard

Comey Firing Heightens Suspicions of Trump Wrongdoing

BY CHRIS JOHNSON, WASHINGTON BLADE

President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey as he was conducting an investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia has stunned America and ignited a firestorm of controversy -- and LGBT advocates are among those railing against the termination as evidence Trump has something to hide.

Comey was dismissed months after he acknowledged in testimony to Congress the FBI was conducting a probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential coordination with the Trump campaign on those efforts. Trump's firing of Comey raises serious questions about whether the president sought to thwart the investigation and potential charges against him.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said Comey's firing as he was conducting an investigation into Trump's ties with Russia raises concerns over the rule of law.

"The fact that Comey was investigating possible wrongdoing in connection with Trump's relationship with Russia makes this deeply troubling and creates an appearance that Trump is seeking to impede that investigation," Minter said. "The lack of process and respect for the traditional independence of the FBI is breathtaking. This administration is inflicting serious damage on our institutions and shared values, including respect for the rule of law."

The White House announced late Tuesday Trump had fired Comey at the recommendation of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein. Provided by the White House was the termination letter in which the president says Comey informed him "on three separate occasions he's not under investigation."

Also made public were letters recommending the termination by Sessions and Rosen, who cited Comey's handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server and the decision to hold a news conference announcing charges wouldn't be pursued as grounds for dismissal.

The nation's largest LGBT group, the Human Rights Campaign, was out of the gate early after news broke of the Comey firing calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to continue to investigate Trump ties to Russia.

"Donald Trump just fired the man leading the investigation into his ties to Russia. He did so on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had promised to recuse himself from that probe after lying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee," HRC President Chad Griffin said. "There is no time for delay in appointing a special prosecutor. Our democracy depends on it. We've been down a similar path before. Congress must put patriotism before party and do what's right for the country."

Comey's dismissal adds fuel to the fire of those regularly protesting the Trump administration. HRC co-sponsored a protest at the White House on Wednesday and at the Russian ambassador's residence on Tuesday. The Equality March for Unity and Pride is slated for June 11 in Washington with dozens of other solidarity marches around the country and world set for the same day.

Renewing the call for a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate Russian involvement in the election was Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of six openly LGB members of Congress and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus.

"The American people deserve the truth," Cicilline said. "The truth about Donald Trump's business interests in Russia. The truth about collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. And, most importantly, the truth about what the president knew and when he knew it. It's now more important than ever that Congress establish an independent, bipartisan commission outside Donald Trump's Justice Department to uncover the whole truth."

The firing of Comey puts Democrats in a strange position of objecting to his termination after they expressed outrage with Comey's handling of Clinton's email scandal and blamed her loss on a letter he sent to Congress days before the election informing lawmakers of a new email investigation. Comey announced the investigation concluded and no charges would be pursued on the day before the election.

The stated reasons for firing Comey also marks a turnabout for Trump because as a candidate he drew on the ongoing email investigation as a major reason why voters should reject her -- at one time pledging as president to appoint as a special prosecutor to continue the investigation after Comey recommended no charges. (At a White House event at the beginning of the Trump administration, Trump jokingly blew kisses at Comey and said he's become "more famous than me.")

At the White House on Wednesday following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Trump made brief comments to the press that Comey was fired "because he was not doing a good job."

During an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper Tuesday evening, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the firing "has nothing to do with Russia."

"Somebody must be getting $50 every time (Russia) is said on TV," Conway said. "(This) has everything to do with whether the current FBI director has the president's confidence and can faithfully execute his duties."

It's unknown who Trump will nominate to replace Comey, although the successor likely won't pursue the Russian investigation with the same vigor as his predecessor because that person will be screened by Trump before the appointment. New York Magazine, after stopping Trump supporter and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at D.C.'s Trump International Hotel, reported he's under consideration for the role.

The Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank that advocates for LGBT rights, issued a statement Wednesday calling on the U.S Senate to refuse to confirm a new FBI director until a special prosecutor is in place.

"We need a special prosecutor, and we need one right now. Every step of the way, President Trump has tried to stifle or kill the Russia investigation," Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Ken Gude said. "Any notion that Trump would fire FBI Director Comey over his handling of the Clinton email investigation is a red herring. No new FBI Director should be confirmed until a special prosecutor is appointed to lead a truly independent investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia."

During testimony before Congress on Monday, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said he's not aware of any evidence suggesting Trump colluded with Russia to undermine the U.S. election, but that might have changed after he departed his role because he was not aware of an ongoing FBI counter-intelligence investigation.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that days before Comey was fired, he requested a significant increase in funding for the Russia investigation. Comey reportedly made the request to Rosenstein, who later made the recommendation to fire the FBI director.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, declined to comment on the Comey firing, saying it's the organization's policy to "always and only comment on issues through the prism of LGBT rights and equality."

"In this instance, I can see no such perspective," Angelo concluded.

At the time of his appointment during the Obama administration, Comey was considered an LGBT-supportive Republican. Comey was among the 131 Republicans in 2013 who signed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case against California's Proposition 8 urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality. (Comey didn't sign a similar 2015 brief when he was serving as FBI director.)

Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, said the Comey firing is outside of his organization's mission when asked to comment on potential concerns it raises for the rule of law, but added Trump has plenty of other officials worth firing.

"Lambda Legal indeed is concerned about the president's commitment to the rule of law, as evidenced by his disparaging comments about judges who are doing their jobs enforcing our nation's laws, including the Constitution," Davidson said. "As for James Comey, he was not on our list of those who currently pose the biggest threats to the LGBT community and to people living with HIV. If the president is in the mood for firing more people, we'd suggest he consider Jeff Sessions, Tom Price, Betsy DeVos, and Roger Severino."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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