ACLU Supports the Appointment of a Special Prosecutor

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By Anthony D. Romero

May 9, 2017 — has the potential to be one of the most consequential days in the history of the United States and our experiment in constitutional democracy since the Watergate scandal brought down President Richard Nixon. As with Nixon, we have the specter of a president using his formal constitutional powers to obstruct an investigation into potential criminal activity connected to the president’s campaign. And like Nixon, Donald Trump’s actions threaten to place the president above the law.

They demand a strong response to preserve our constitutional values.

A little after 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, reports flooded in that President Trump had summarily fired FBI Director Jim Comey for his mishandling of the Clinton email investigation. This rationale, however, is hard to believe, considering he was leading the only serious investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign helped the Russian government interfere in November’s election to their boss’s advantage. We know the White House’s explanation is highly suspicious because of Trump’s own words as well as the sordid happenings behind the scenes in the run-up to yesterday’s dismissal of Comey, which are now spilling out of Washington and into the news.

After all, in late October, Trump praised Comey for reopening the Clinton email investigation after criticizing the FBI director for failing to press charges against her in July of last year. And according to press reports, the case against Comey was built by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had to recuse himself from the FBI’s Russia investigation due to his ties to the Trump campaign and his own meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. before the election — which he may have lied about at his confirmation hearing. And today, The New York Times reports that just days before his firing, Comey asked the Justice Department for more resources to conduct his investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia.

To be clear, we’re not in impeachment territory yet, but the parallels to Nixon are striking and deserve further investigation.

As the evidence of executive corruption mounts, the ACLU is calling for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to independently investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russian interference in November’s election and for Congress to create a select committee, akin to the Watergate select committee, to ensure an adequate and public resolution of this crisis. This, no doubt, will give rise to two straightforward and necessary questions: How does the investigation affect American civil liberties? And why does the ACLU have a dog in this fight?

These are good questions that deserve answers.

President Trump’s actions yesterday to get rid of the person who represented a clear and present danger to his presidency only further demonstrates that he has nothing but contempt for the rule of law and its most sacred motto: “No one is above the law.” This has been obvious. We saw it coming a mile away.

Once it became apparent that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for the president, we took him at his word. After a thorough constitutional analysis of his campaign statements and promises, we concluded that he was a “one-man constitutional crisis.” And he’s only lived up to our description in his short time in office by imposing a Muslim ban and then criticizing the judges who ruled against him, revoking civil rights guidance for transgender students, and tapping for attorney general a man hostile to voting rights and constitutional policing. In four short months, Donald Trump has consistently violated the individual rights of people inside the United States, often the most vulnerable among us.

He is a leader who wants to operate without any constraints, and whose campaign is under investigation for potentially colluding with the Russians to undermine the integrity of our electoral process. That’s why a truly independent and credible investigation is necessary to assure the American public that the president or his campaign staff hasn’t violated the sanctity of our electoral system. I applaud members of Congress like John McCain who understand this isn’t a moment for partisanship but rather a time for bipartisan commitment to checks and balances.

The ACLU has faced decisions like this before. During the Watergate scandal, the ACLU and its affiliates were split over whether the organization could or should call for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon. Some feared it would look partisan, but others pushed forward for fear that Nixon could destroy the Bill of Rights.

Through internal debate, the proponents of impeachment won the day, and on September 29, 1973, the ACLU board of directors called for the impeachment of President Nixon. The resolution, passed by a 10-to-one margin, said: “There is now substantial public evidence of President Nixon’s participation in high crimes and misdemeanors, and these acts have violated the civil liberties of people of the United States and the rule by law.”

To be clear, we’re not in impeachment territory yet, but the parallels to Nixon are striking and deserve further investigation.

When the rule of law breaks down, as it did during the Nixon era, individual rights are endangered. This is a lesson we learned back in October 1973, when the ACLU made its case for impeachment publicly in a New York Times ad: “Richard Nixon has left us no doubt. He means to function above the law.” Donald Trump is heading towards similar ground. It’s time for a special prosecutor and select committee to get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia before the president further undermines the democratic norms and principles that make America great.

Anthony D. Romero is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union



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18 thoughts on “ACLU Supports the Appointment of a Special Prosecutor”

  1. Tia Will

    Anyone who bothers to read my posts knows that I abhor the inappropriate use of the word “crisis”. This is as true at the national as at the local level. On the national scene, we are coming very close to my criteria for crisis, in that with POTUS, we cannot reliably discern truth from lie and have to accept that in his eyes the two are interchangeable depending on whether or not the statement in question is favorable to him. Examples of this behavior abound. ( 44 was Kenyan until he wasn’t, NATO obsolete, until relevant, China currency manipulator, until it isn’t…)

    I further believe that primary source material is always the most reliable. In this context, I wonder if we may not be in luck due to the prolific amount of primary source information in the form of videos from previous news appearances, campaign clips and videos from campaign rallies. Now, we have daily direct tweets. Not to stretch the Nixon analogy too far, but I am wondering if 45s own appearances and tweets may not be the equivalent of the Nixon tapes.

    Given the direct statement that seems reflective of GOP attitude from Rand Paul stating “It does not make sense for Republicans to investigate other Republicans”, I am in agreement with the ACLU that an independent prosecutor and investigation ( chosen without input from Sessions) is warranted.

     

     

    1. John Hobbs

      And when the POTUS is called to account and impeached, as I hope he will be, will you support criminal prosecution for treason and the penalties prescribed by law or should we give DJT a shot at restorative justice?

      1. Jim Hoch

        Good point John, Note that all presidents who have faced impeachment, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton and perhaps Trump, have been white. I find this racial profiling to be most troubling and problematical from a social justice perspective.

         

        In addition Presidents who are impeached face an abrupt end to their political careers and it seems wrong to deny someone the opportunity to flourish just because their reality is different from “the norm”. I call for an end to any further impeachment proceedings as they are punitive and display ignorant racial bias on the part of the speaker.

      2. Howard P

        Remember, impeachment is one thing, conviction of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is another, and only conviction results in removal from office… Tricky Dick did not want to roll the dice, and resigned…

        1. Jim Hoch

          True but like an arrest impeachment goes on you permanent record and can stunt your career.

          Similar to the recent initiatives to not suspend dangerous/disruptive students because it might be harmful to their future careers, no consideration is given to the other students and their best interests. We now have a dangerous and disruptive president and the only fair way to approach this situation is not to do anything that could impair his prospects. Anything else is just selfish.

          If that means we all need to die in a thermonuclear conflict that is better than going against our principals.

           

  2. Keith O

    Comedy had already stated three times that there was no collusion between Trump and Russia.  Trump is not going to be impeached.  Deal with it.  The left is completely unhinged.  It was just a few months ago where democrats were asking for Comey’s job.

    1. Howard P

      In the United States, the articles of impeachment are drafted by the House of Representatives for cases involving federal officials. Once drafted, a supermajority of the United States Senate is required to convict based on the articles. [wikipedia]

      Even if the evidence strongly points to Trump/Russia, with Republicans having a majority in the House and Senate… guess how those votes would go…

      Probably not based on evidence-based decision making… particularly in the Senate.

    2. Tia Will

      Keith

      I would point out that saying that you do not have evidence sufficient to prove collusion is not the same thing as saying that there is no collusion. Medical example. Until I have the pathologists final tissue diagnosis back, I do not know whether the diagnosis is cancer or not. The best I can do is to say that I have no evidence of cancer….but I have been wrong. Best to wait for the final diagnosis, or in this case, end of an investigation.

      1. Howard P

        … saying that you do not have evidence sufficient to prove (pick your crime) is not the same thing as saying that there is no (same crime). [Parenthetical edits, mine]

        I agree.  Suggest you continue to use the same yardstick elsewhere, as well.  It’s a good yardstick…

        Perhaps others can borrow it from time to time…

  3. Howard P

    There is another mechanism for removal/suspension from office… other than impeachment… ‘when a President is no longer fit (unable) to discharge their duties (incapacity)’…  Severe illness, injury, insanity, etc.

  4. Keith O

    Trump will be your President for the next 4 years and maybe eight, he’s not going to be impeached.

    The sooner the left comes to that realization the better it will be for their  mental health.

    1. Howard P

      Nah… barring something truly bizarre (yet we’ve seen the truly bizarre, in the Republican primaries and the General Elections of 2016), no way “the donald” will get a second term… and might  well not even be given a second nomination by his own ‘party’ (that he joined recently, as he was historically registered as a Democrat)… he seems possible of being extremely adept at burning bridges between the American people, his own party, and very likely his own staff, appointees, and his chosen running mate.  As a student of history, this should be a fascinating time.

      From the entertainment/’reality TV’ side, it will be interesting to see how many times he says, “you’re fired”… to people he hired…

      Barring a major shift in House/Senate composition in  2018, he’s probably ‘bullet-proof’ until 2020.   Why am I thinking of a Zager/Evans song, even tho’ that was “2525”?

      Will truly be interesting to watch this Shakespearian comedy/tragedy unfold…

       

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