Why hasn't the US political system taken recourse against Trump for his politically motivated firings?

  • The answers to this question - What reasons may Donald Trump have had for firing FBI Director James Comey? - appear to suggest that there is widespread certainty that the sacking was politically motivated. And furthermore that the political motivation was to avoid or reduce the impact of potentially serious corruption charges.

    This is not the first time Trump's behaviour has set off these alarm bells. Similar accusations were levelled against his sackings of Sally Yates and Preet Bharara.

    As an outside observer (I live in Europe), it seems quite astonishing and appalling that he has been able to do this without political opposition. Especially when media condemnation and certainty that he has ulterior motives seems almost universal.

    Part of the job of the US constitution and legislature would seem to be to offer checks and balances against the actions of the President. Why has no-one yet used any of these powers to try and rein in or remove the President? What steps would there have to be, now, in order to begin such a process?  

    Your question assumes that his firings *were* politically motivated. Our jaded misgivings otherwise, it's entirely possible that he fired Comey for precisely the reasons he stated.

    @RobertHarvey possible, but not *plausible*. :)

    Re: "appear to suggest that there is widespread certainty" - Keep in mind that there is a particular similar personality type that frequents stackexchange forums. The results of one answer on politics.stackexchange is probably not a good statistical representation of US politics as a whole.

    Wasn't Comey *just* fired yesterday?

    You are incorrect that no recourse is being taken. The Democrats are on the warpath. But they won't get very far without a bit more Republican support.

    There was "Widespread certainty" that OJ did it... "Widespread Certainty" isn't a conviction... for the same reason Hillary walks free, Trump walks free: Innocent until proven guilty.

    @aroth: At the moment all anyone has is speculation.

    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.

    The question also assumes that the motivation, whether political or otherwise, is at all relevant. Absent proof of bribery, the president's motive for firing officials who serve at his pleasure--and the FBI director is one such--is immaterial.

  • You wrote that you are

    an outside observer (I live in Europe)

    As a fellow European, I can somewhat relate. There is an important thing to consider, though: in the US, professional bureaucrats play a lot smaller role than in most European countries. Your profile page states that you are from the UK. In the UK, only the very top bureaucrats are political appointees; the rest are professional bureaucrats. In the UK, the number of bureaucrats that is actually appointed by the government, and thus usually (although not necessarily) changes when the government changes is ~100. (I got that number from an answer to a different question on this site which I cannot find again at this moment.)

    In the US, political appointees go much, much lower, well into the mid-level management of all the many organizations. A new administration usually replaces ~4000(!!!) bureaucrats. All the heads of all the government organizations, all the department heads of those organizations, etc. are appointed by the President and serve at the President's discretion. IOW: the President can appoint whomever they want whenever they want for as long (or as short) as they want for any reason whatsoever without owing anyone any explanation of any kind. (Some positions (~1000) require Senate approval, of course.)

    The head of the FBI is one such position. It is true that customarily, the head of the FBI is usually not replaced by a new administration, simply because the position is not usually a very political one in the first place: FBI directors aren't chosen for their party affiliation, they are chosen for their crimefighting and leadership skills. Obama kept several appointees by G.W. Bush, just like Bush kept several appointees by Bill Clinton. But, that's just a custom, and President Trump is free to break from this custom, if he so chooses.

    Maybe Trump fired him to stall the investigation. Maybe Comey was recently diagnosed with a brain tumor and asked Trump to fire him to keep this fact private. Maybe Trump genuinely feels that he has someone who can do a better job. Maybe he just throws a set of dice and randomly fires people. It doesn't matter: all of those are legitimate reasons, and he doesn't have to explain anything.

    You can judge him morally, you can judge him politically, but there's nothing you can do legally, and so there is no "recourse". He has done nothing objectively wrong.

    Note that the FBI is not the only agency that can run an investigation. In particular, Congress could run an investigation, and it is completely free of influence from the President (other than the fact that he ran for the current majority party, but hey, that's democracy).

    -1 this is factually incorrect implying that there is no recourse. One does not need to break the law for their to be political recourse. In fact, impeachment does not require that the president breaks the law--merely that congress finds the president unfit for office.

    @blip The answer is incomplete but factually correct. It explains why no legal recourse has been taken.

    @BobTheAverage I don't know that the OP is asking specifically about *legal* recourse, but even so, that's my point. There can be legal recourse--even if the president didn't break the law.

    @Blip I think you should reconsider your downvote. There are two sides to this answer, legal recourse, and political recourse. Impeachment is as much political as it is legal. When Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment his approval rating was at 24%. He was going to be impeached because Watergate caused republican voters to abandon him.

    @BobTheAverage I agree with you but don't see that in this answer. The second to last paragraph is primarily what I am commenting on.

    I'd argue that firing a FBI director to stall an investigation of foreign influence into your election would be kind of a textbook case of high treason.

    @Magisch There is no crime of high treason in the US and treason is defined as "Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort." which firing an FBI director because he wants to investigate pretty certainly is not.

    @DRF He could very well be adhering to US enemies by helping russia by trying not to get fired (assuming russia did help him in exchange for favors).

    @magisch see https://www.jstor.org/stable/787437?seq=3#page_scan_tab_contents for some further explanation. In the first place it is very unlikely that Russia qualifies as an enemy of the US, generally hostile relations seems to mean at least a limited war.

    So, TL;DR: "American civil service is not an episode of *Yes, Minister*. You can't @#!& off the politicians and expect to keep your job."

    @Magisch Legal treason has a specific definition - you must betray your country to another country with whom yours is currently at war. The US is not formally at war with anyone, so technically no one is capable of committing treason.

    @blip: although it may well be true that in reality impeachment is motivated as much (if not more) by politics than law, at least officially the only reason you can impeach a president is for "Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors" (US Constitution, article 2, section 4). So no, at least officially, the congress can't remove a president simply because they find that he's unfit for office.

    (-1) The third paragraph completely misses the point: The head of the FBI is *not* one such position. That's the reason there is a 10-year term. And it's been relatively unpartisan not because head of the police naturally tends to be a nonpartisan position whereas other position would lend themselves to political appointments. Positions like Director of the United States Geological Survey are much less sensitive, yet s/he is a political appointee serving at the will of the president.

    @JerryCoffin "High Crimes and Misdemeanors" is completely open to interpretation, though. It's not any sort of specific legal term.

    @blip: That's not really true at all. Both "high crimes" and "misdemeanors" are types of *crimes*. Without breaking the law, there is no crime.

    @JerryCoffin a good quick read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_crimes_and_misdemeanors#United_States It's a 'term of art' that is open to inrepretation.

    @blip: It's open to interpretation a little the same way "water" is. It's open to argument/definition whether "water" means only liquid water, or also includes steam and ice (i.e., gas and solid). Unfortunately, your position is roughly equivalent to claiming that "water" also includes helium and plutonium.

    @JerryCoffin uh, no. I'm simply saying it's open to interpretation by congress.

    There were many good answers to my question: I have accepted this because, for me, it provides the clearest explanation of the situation.

    @Magisch - You can argue that it was "to stall an investigation" but you'd have absolutely NOTHING to prove that point by even a preponderance of the evidence, let alone beyond a reasonable doubt. The FACT is that Comey was clearly incompetent and/or politically motivated instead of impartial and Trump had planned on getting rid of him when he got around to it. It just so happened that the time to get around to it was when the 2nd in charge for the attorney general who finally got past the democrats slow-rolling of appointees just 2 weeks prior had complained about Comey to Trump.

    Now that Trump's gone on record to admit he fired Comey to make the investigation go away, a lot of this answer is wrong. Not that it is your fault, but -1

    @Magisch: Not even close to treason. At worst it would qualify as obstruction of justice (which I believe *does* fall under "high crimes and misdemeanors").

    AtShane AtMagisch The funny part is whether or not Comey is fired for whatever motivation doesn't stop the actual investigation. You'd have to fire the entire FBI for that. Trump has constitutional authority to fire anybody under the Executive Branch and the FBI and the DOJ are departments directly under the executive branch. It's quite clear and quite legal but doesn't stop the trolls from insisting that even though DOJ Rosenstein recommended Comey firing, many Democrat party leaders calling for Comey firing, then Trump actually doing it, they then claim "high treason" or something ridiculous

    I think this is a good answer to put into some perspective for people. I do wonder if you still feel as per your wording that "*Congress could run an investigation, and it is completely free of influence from the President*" is still an accurate statement with 100% certainty? It seems that at the "current moment" this is exactly what is being done yet his influence does affect the process. I just randomly found the post by the way, wasn't even looking but I to keep reading your answer once I started so good job!

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM