- - Wednesday, May 17, 2017


President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James B. Comey has set in motion a series of events that present the most serious threat to his presidency yet. We can all speculate where we would be had Mr. Trump not decided to dismiss the FBI director, but the simple fact is that the White House has lost the ability to control where this story goes from here.

The FBI’s investigation of Russian interference into our election continues. Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified last week that the bureau’s investigation (which began last July) has not been interrupted, and Wednesday night’s appointment as former FBI chief Robert Mueller as independent special counsel in the overall Russia probe ensures that the investigation will be with us for a long time to come.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been conducting their own investigations, which have included public and private hearings, dozens of interviews, and many requests for documents. Eventually, those committees will produce reports that will be made public. They appear determined to do so on a bipartisan basis.

The last two weeks — capped by the Mueller selection — have been an unmitigated disaster for Mr. Trump’s team, stalling their legislative agenda on Capitol Hill and potentially threatening Mr. Trump’s presidency.

Republicans want to move on their legislative priorities, especially health care and tax reform, but it will be nearly impossible to do so until the current controversies are somehow resolved. There have been rapid-fire claims, accusations and insinuations about what happened, but what we really need now are some hard facts. Unanswered questions hang over the entire affair.

What do Mr. Comey’s memos on his meetings with Mr. Trump say? House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz has requested that the Department of Justice produce all memos written by Mr. Comey, including the memo that reportedly claims that Mr. Trump said he hoped Mr. Comey would “wrap up the Michael Flynn investigation soon.”

What will Mr. Comey say when he goes public? Once his memos are received, I expect Mr. Comey will be called to testify before House and Senate committees in public hearings over the next few weeks. Mr. Comey will be asked about the private dinner and two phone calls where the president insists the FBI director told him that he was not personally being investigated over the Russia meddling charges.

More questions: Why did Mr. Comey not alert his superiors about Mr. Trump’s comments on the Flynn investigation? The FBI chief prides himself on his independence and transparency, but said nothing publicly about getting pressure from the president.

Is there a taping system in the Oval Office, as a presidential tweet hinted? If there is, what might those tapes reveal? Will they answer questions about Mr. Trump’s now-notorious meeting with the Russian foreign minister where sensitive foreign intelligence was reportedly revealed, not to mention any private meetings with Mr. Comey? Mr. Trump may have been bluffing about the tapes, but if they do exist, the White House won’t be able to protect them for long.

Where does the Russia investigation go from here? 

Mr. Trump may have been bluffing about the tapes, but if they do exist, the White House won’t be able to protect them for long.

Where does the Russia investigation go from here? We believe that the FBI investigation remains a national security issue, not a criminal probe at this point. With Mr. Mueller now calling the shots, the whole controversy will now get a fresh look from an experienced investigator with subpoena power.

Is there momentum for a 9/11-style commission? Congress would have to pass a bill authorizing such a panel, and even then, Mr. Trump could veto it. This would take time and delay any conclusion by many months.

There is a lot that we do not know right now, but certainly there is reason for concern.

Matt Mackowiak is the president of Austin-based Potomac Strategy Group, a Republican consultant, a Bush administration and Bush-Cheney re-election campaign veteran, and former press secretary to two U.S. senators. He is the host of a new national politics podcast, “Mack on Politics,” produced in partnership with The Washington Times. His podcast may be found at washingtontimes.com/mackonpolitics.



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