Donald Trump’s shock firing of FBI Director James Comey Tuesday led to comparisons of former President Richard Nixon and the infamous Saturday Night Massacre.
Comey was leading the agency investigating allegations that some of Trump’s political advisers colluded with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential election.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau,” Trump said in his letter to Comey.
It is unclear what three times Trump is referring to, and the New York Times reported White House officials did not elaborate.
The administration cited Comey’s handling of the investigation of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as a reason why he was fired. Trump frequently brought up the server and the investigation during the presidential campaign.
Two Democratic members of New Mexico’s delegation were among those who made the comparisons to Nixon.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich was explicit in the comparison.
“President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director Comey smacks of President Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre,” Heinrich said in a statement. “If this is an effort to stop the investigations into Russian collusion with the Trump campaign, it won’t succeed.”
In 1973, Nixon ordered his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General to fire the independent special prosecutor investigating his role in Watergate. They refused and resigned, but Nixon convinced then-Solicitor General Robert Bork to do the firing.
Heinrich later appeared on MSNBC to discuss Comey’s firing.
U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján also mentioned the Saturday Night Massacre and compared the actions of Nixon’s Attorney General to that of Trump’s.
“In that case the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General had the good judgement and decency to resign in protest over the President’s actions,” Luján said of the firings by Nixon. “Today, we seem to have an Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General who are willing to support the President no matter how far out of bounds he steps.”
In his statement, Luján also called for an independent commission to look into ties between Russia and Trump.
His colleague, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, also called for an investigation not tied to Congress or the Department of Justice.
“Now, more than ever, it is clear that we have to have an independent, non-partisan investigation into every allegation about Russian interference and influence, as well as the current conflict of interest issues,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said an independent commission should be modeled after the 9/11 Commission, which investigated the terror attacks in New York City and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001.
He also emphasized that FBI directors should not be subject to political whims.
“FBI directors are appointed to 10-year terms to avoid political interference in the nation’s top law enforcement organization,” Udall said. “It is high time that Republicans joined Democrats in exercising real oversight over the Trump Administration, and the confirmation process for the next FBI director would be a great place to start.”
“I thank Former FBI Director Comey for his service to our nation, but of late he has become a distraction to the mission of the FBI,” Rep. Steve Pearce, the lone Republican in the delegation, said in a statement Thursday. “Comey, as with the rest of the Executive Branch, serves at the pleasure of the President. To me, this decision seems to be a long time coming.”
Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who Trump fired earlier this year, is under investigation for connections to Russia.
CNN reported later Tuesday night that federal prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas to Flynn’s associates. The subpoenas seek business records related to Flynn that may shed light on his contacts to Russian operatives.
Comey testified to Congress that Flynn is one part of a wider investigation.
Update: Added a quote by Steve Pearce.