World·Analysis

Comey's successor a critical choice for Trump

Donald Trump's choice as the next FBI director will need to be seen as "unimpeachably independent," CBC reporter Keith Boag said on Wednesday, in order to restore credibility and shake the appearance Trump is trying to shut down an investigation that could damage his presidency. Boag took questions about the story from viewers in a live video on Facebook.

Veteran White House reporter Keith Boag of CBC News on timing, nature of firing of FBI director

U.S. President Donald Trump was praiseworthy and shook hands with James Comey on Jan. 22 at the White House, the latest high-profile exit during Trump's first four months in office. (Andrew Harrer/Getty Images)

Reporter Keith Boag, a veteran chronicler of White House happenings, took questions in a Facebook Live video on Wednesday from CBC News viewers and readers in the wake of the announcement the previous day that U.S. President Donald Trump was firing FBI director James Comey.

Comey's replacement must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. It will be critical for Trump and his team to choose a nominee who is seen to be "unimpeachably independent" to even Democrats, Boag said.

"If he appoints someone who is regarded as simply a stooge to do the president's bidding, then I think we're very close to being in a constitutional crisis [in the U.S.]," said Boag.

While Trump has seesawed in his comments regarding Comey as both main presidential candidates in 2016 faced investigation, there was no inkling in recent days he was ready to lower the boom. The question of what changed in Trump's calculus isn't yet known, Boag said.

Comey confirmed weeks ago that that associates of Donald Trump's campaign and transition team had been investigated for possible links and collusion with Russia as part of the broader probe into interference in the election.

Can investigation remain effective?

While the investigation hasn't closed shop "it's reasonable to question whether it can be as effective without a director of the FBI, or without even James Comey, as it would be with him," said Boag.

There has been immediate clamour Wednesday from politicians of both stripes to appoint a special prosecutor, but modern U.S. political history has illustrated that may not be the best way to go, even though the pressure to do so will be tremendous.

"Both parties in the last 40 years have had bitter experiences with the appointment of special prosecutors," said Boag.

He referred specifically to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's sprawling probe into president Bill Clinton, which started with an examination into Clinton real-estate dealings years earlier and expanded to include his reports of infidelities and accusations of sexual misconduct.

That all ended with a contentious impeachment vote, but Clinton served out his term. (Starr, incidentally, wasn't the original special prosecutor. Republicans let the term of Robert Fiske, also a Republican, lapse when there were hints the investigation would soon be closed.)

No perfect analogies

A commission akin to the one that was set up to examine events leading up to the 9/11 attacks could also be a possibility, Boag said.

Various analogies have been drawn between Trump's decision to events in previous presidencies, though none are perfect, making Tuesday's move unprecedented to a great degree, Boag said.

Clinton fired FBI director William Sessions in 1993, but the circumstances involved expenses and internal matters and didn't contain the threat of political backlash for the president.

Boag said the Watergate references being made in recent hours are "somewhat appropriate." Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was looking into the Watergate burglary and its origins. The firing was a critical moment en route to the groundswell that would lead to Nixon's eventual impeachment.

Boag was quick to add that it's well within the president's authority to ask an FBI director to step down, although Comey still had more than half of his 10-year term remaining.

Abuse of power?

"It's too early to answer" whether the Trump decision is an abuse of power, the reporter said.

Also up for conjecture is Trump's assertion, in his letter to Comey, that he has personally been cleared multiple times of wrongdoing as part of the Russia probe.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and other top Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain have expressed misgivings about some of the unpredictable things Trump has said and done, but have ultimately stood with him. The resolve of Republicans regarding ongoing investigations, or lack thereof, will be watched, Boag said.

Given that Republicans control all levels of government in D.C., Bagg added, public pressure will play no small part in what transpires in the future.

"Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant, I think. There are a lot of people watching what happens next."

Watch Keith Boag's full Facebook Live Q& A session:

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