James Werrell

Congress must investigate firing of FBI director

How many “gates” have we had since Watergate? Probably hundreds.

Since the Watergate misdeeds that felled President Richard M. Nixon, we, as a society, have had the habit of hitching “gate” to the end of even garden-variety scandals, no matter how inconsequential, thinking the label might confer weight to the act. But the “gate” label has become so common it has lapsed into cliche.

Logically we should never see a real Watergate in this country again. We learned with the first one that obstruction of justice, even by the president, is certainly dangerous and most likely fruitless. And with that first Watergate, another truism entered the lexicon: “The coverup was worse than the crime.”

Any elected official with any sense – and any sense of history – should know better than to engage in “dirty tricks” as Nixon did. The result is almost certainly disgrace and infamy.

Many of Donald Trump’s actions early in his presidency have seemed to echo Nixon’s. Both men also seem to share traits such as paranoia, vengefulness, insecurity and dishonesty to varying degrees.

And not comparing Tuesday’s firing by Trump of FBI Chief James Comey to Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre, in which a special prosecutor and two attorneys general were canned, would be a sin of omission. Both presidents got rid of people who were investigating them.

Still, it is initially hard to conceive of Trump repeating Nixon’s blunders in such an obvious way. Could it really be possible that Trump, his family or members of his administration have done something heinous enough to rise to the level of a legitimate “gate”?

There is ample smoke to justify continued investigation. And even if Trump isn’t personally culpable, we need to get to the bottom of how the Russians interfered in a U.S. presidential election, an outrage verging on an act of war.

We also shouldn’t make the mistake of forgetting history, not only what happened after the Watergate scandal was revealed but also what it took to uncover it. Unraveling Watergate took more than two years of painstaking work by reporters, an investigation by the aforementioned special prosecutor and his eventual replacement, weeks of hearings by the special Watergate commission, discussion of impeachment in the House, and a trip by a congressional delegation to the White House to advise Nixon to resign.

In other words, pinning anything on Trump or his cohorts could be a long and arduous journey.

But it now is journey we, as a nation, are obligated to undertake. By firing Comey, Trump has given us no choice.

All the explanations the White House has offered so far for Comey’s firing have been ludicrous. We need to know why he really did it – and what, if any, involvement Russia has in this whole puzzle.

It might not take as long to uncover the truth. Nixon was shrewder than Trump and more schooled in the art of political subterfuge.

Plus, actors in this drama, such as former security director Michael Flynn, already seem willing to talk in exchange for some form of immunity. Nixon’s chief counsel, John Dean, didn’t come along until late in the game during the Watergate investigation.

It is important to note that all this speculation might amount to little or nothing, another “minigate.” Again, though, by firing Comey, Trump made it impossible for even his supporters to look the other way.

Congress needs to appoint a special commission with subpoena power and get the facts.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.