DAY 6

Trump's move to fire FBI director poses a threat to U.S. democracy, says David Frum

The Atlantic writer argues that Trump's plan is to throw the FBI and the Republican Party into chaos, because that's how he thrives.
Former FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation" on May 3, a week before his firing. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Listen7:48

When The Atlantic writer and senior editor David Frum heard that FBI director James Comey had been fired, he feared for the rule of law in the United States.

"My reaction was this was a blow against one of the most fundamental institutions in the United States," he tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

He's not alone in that fear. Many critics have said that this move is a cause for alarm, with Democrats pushing for a special prosecutor to look into allegations that Trump's campaign conspired with Russian hackers.

U.S. President Donald Trump dismissed Comey on May 9th for his handling of the investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's emails. In a letter, Rod Rosenstein, Trump's deputy attorney general, said that the director had had too much influence on the 2016 U.S. election.

However Democrats and other critics have questioned the timing, 109 days into his presidency and right as the agency investigates alleged Russian meddling in the election.

U.S. President Donald Trump used this letter to fire James Comey from his position as director of the FB. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Frum warns that this step is a blow to both to the FBI as an institution, and its investigation. He accuses Trump of attempting to postpone any results, first by removing their leader and later by delaying the appointment of a new one.

"He's playing for time, as he's done throughout his career," Frum says, arguing that his strategy is to push the Russia investigation until after the 2018 mid-term election and the 2020 presidential election.

Trump referenced the allegation that he coordinated with Russian hackers in an NBC interview, saying it was one of the reasons he decided to fire Comey, following a recommendation from Rosenstein.

"I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won,'" he told NBC's Lester Holt, though noting he would have fired Comey regardless.

Authoritarians build power by weakening institutions

Regardless of Trump's intent, political theorists have argued that these actions slowly erode the ability for a proper democracy to function.

"What would-be authoritarians do when they get into power is systematically undermine the functioning of independent state institutions," Yascha Mounk told Vox. He studies democracy and political theory at Harvard University.

"That is what Hugo Chávez did in Venezuela, by trying to break the power of independent electoral commissions, of the courts, and, over time, every institution in the state."

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House regarding his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Frum takes a similar stance on the events of the last week, writing in The Atlantic that Comey's firing represents a test for U.S. democracy.

In the three days since that article was published, he doesn't appear to be confident in the government's ability to pass that test.

"The president has first and foremost failed to do his duty. The second most is Congress who back him in this effort," he said. "You know this should be an uproar. They have failed in their duty."

With files from Reuters. 

To hear Brent Bambury's full conversation with David Frum, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.