Donald Trump’s stunning decision to fire FBI Director James Comey have led to rumblings of “impeachment” among Democrats and others as reports suggest the president’s motive for firing Comey was to undermine an FBI probe into Trump’s campaign’s ties with Russia.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Wednesday night that Trump’s decision to fire his FBI director could lead to possible impeachment proceedings in Congress.
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“It may well produce another United States vs. Nixon on a subpoena that went to United States Supreme Court,” Blumenthal told CNN. “It may well produce impeachment proceedings, although we’re very far from that possibility.”
Trump and the White House have defended the decision to fire the FBI Director over Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails last year.
“He wasn’t doing a good job. Very simply. He was not doing a good job,” Trump said in brief remarks to reporters in the Oval Office Wednesday. Trump made similar remarks on Twitter, saying Comey had “lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington … When things calm down, they will be thanking me!”
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But multiple media reports have suggested other reasons.
A separate report from the Associated Press found the Senate intelligence committee had subpoenaed former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for documents related to the panel’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling.
And citing a source “close to Comey,” CNN anchor Jake Tapper reported the FBI director was dismissed because he lacked personal loyalty to Trump and because the Russia probe was “accelerating.”
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On Thursday, Trump told NBC that he was planning to fire Comey even before he met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a dramatic departure from his earlier statements.
“He’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander. The FBI has been in turmoil. You know that, I know that, everybody knows that,” Trump told Lester Holt in an interview. “I was going to fire Comey, my decision.”
Trump had said in a letter to Comey he was “accepting” a recommendation from Rosenstein and Sessions.
How exactly does the impeachment process work?
Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia, says the U.S. Constitution outlines that a president can be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” but it doesn’t describe what those are.
Trump is the first president since Richard Nixon to fire a law enforcement official overseeing an investigation with ties to the White House.
And while he has the legal authority to do so, Perry said if Trump fired an FBI director in order to obstruct an ongoing investigation it could be considered an impeachable offense.
“If [Trump] is shutting down an attempt to investigate his activities or those of his administration and or his campaign it seems to me that would be obstruction of justice,” Perry said.
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Impeachment is political process, not judicial one, says Perry and there is no formal criteria for it.
The process begins in the House of Representative, which can adopt articles of impeachment with a majority vote. It would then proceed to the Senate, which acts as a kind of court to try the impeachment.
Trump would only be removed from office if a majority of members of Congress vote for it, something unlikely given the GOP’s current majority.
She said that in the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton “it’s not just the act, but it’s the cover-up or the lying” that led to impeachment hearings.
“In Bill Clinton’s case, it wasn’t so much the act of his assignation with Monica Lewinsky, but in the process of investigating that he had lied and committed perjury,” Perry said. Clinton was impeached by the House before being acquitted in the Senate.
Obstruction of justice featured heavily in the articles of impeachment which led to Nixon’s resignation. However, any talk of impeachment is a long ways off. In the case of Nixon more than two years passed between the Watergate break-in and his resignation.
*With files from the Associated Press