Senate Dems: Appoint a special prosecutor or we’ll hold our breath until we turn blue

Democrats are threatening to slow the Senate to a crawl in response to President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday, Sen. Dick Durbin (remember him?) objected to the Republicans’ routine request to allow 13 committee hearings to take place.

Durbin gave the firing of Comey as his reason. His leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, is demanding the appointment of a special prosecutor for the Russia investigation. Democrats also want a special congressional committee to investigate.

The Democrats’ procedural objection doesn’t prevent Senate committees from meeting. However, under the Senate’s “two-hour rule,” committees are limited to meeting during the first two hours after the Senate convenes. Thus, several committee hearings were shut down.

For an encore, maybe the Senate Dems can flee to Illinois.

I think President Trump fired Comey due to unhappiness with his handling of the FBI’s Russia investigation. The White House basically admits as much.

This doesn’t mean that Trump has anything to hide. If he were afraid of the results of an honest investigation, he probably would have fired Comey — who had been a thorn in the side of both the Bush and the Obama administration — months ago, when he could more easily have replaced him with someone he trusts.

If I’m right that the Comey firing had to do with the Russia investigation, the specific motive was likely the fact that the investigation is dominating the news cycle and will drag on interminably. Trump appears to attribute these realities at least in part to Comey’s “grandstanding.” He may well have thought, naively, that since he did nothing wrong, the investigation would quickly clear him. When this didn’t happen, and the media’s obsession with the story didn’t wane, he blamed Comey.

Unfortunately, firing Comey now may well have compounded, rather than remedied, the mistake Trump made in not firing him months ago. The increasingly vociferous calls for a special prosecutor support this claim.

Those calls should be resisted, as I’m sure they will be. There should be a very strong presumption against using special prosecutor. As Quin Hilyer says, such prosecutors operate at least somewhat outside the usual chain of command, without the usual prosecutorial constraints, and with a perverse incentive to “get a scalp” (a conviction) to justify their existence. The risk of abusive behavior is manifest.

If there were good reason to believe that President Trump violated the law, then the extraordinary measure of appointing a special counsel might be justified now that Comey, who was nothing if not independent, has been sacked.

But despite nearly a year of digging, beginning with electronic surveillance of folks associated with the Trump campaign, there appears to be no evidence that Trump violated the law or acted improperly regarding Russia. Indeed, Comey apparently informed Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein that the president is not a target, though this isn’t entirely clear (see Byron York’s parsing of the statements of Grassley and Feinstein).

The FBI is investigating certain individuals associated at one time or another with the Trump campaign. In my view, that’s not reason enough to appoint a special prosecutor.

My view would change if Trump tried to shutdown, hamstring, or influence the course of the investigation. But firing Comey accomplishes none of these things.

Trump may be tempted to do one or more of them in the future. If he does, the case for a special prosecutor would become substantial. As things stand now, it is weak.

Finally, I see no reason to establish a special congressional committee. There’s no reason to suspect that the current committee investigations will be insufficient. Sen. Richard Burr, head of the Senate panel investigating the matter, showed his independence when he criticized the firing of Comey.

Special congressional committees are no less partisan than regular committees. They do attract more attention. That, I imagine, is why the Democrats want a special committee here. It’s not a sound reason for establishing one.