Why the ACLU Supports the Appointment of a Special Prosecutor and the Creation of a Select Committee to Investigate Trump Campaign Ties to Russia

James Comey speaks at the Brookings Institution. (Photo: Brookings Institution)

Yesterday — 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.

Demand a special prosecutor on Russia

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.

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Anonymous

Mr. Agent,
Your oath is to protect and defend the Consititiion of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. Your agency has been on the wrong side of history since your inception. The ICREACH programs and other forms of invasive and illegal programs that you are involved with are a violation of our constitution - the LAW. You sharing private and confidential intelligence with foreign countries (five-eyes) is another violation of our sovereignty as a nation. If you want to earn the trust and confidence and support of the public; start with being transparent in your programs and operations; ask us for our approval and/if we as a public give you those powers, you shall use those. You breaking our laws as/if they do not apply to you undermines our democracy and our country. You are not a great American if you do not stand up for laws and the laws that protect all citizens, including the ones you suspect because suspicion is not infinite, nor concrete, nor reasonable anymore. Stop placing GPS on cars, stop bugging homes, stop abusing the patriot act, stop releasing fake news to the public, stop targeting ethnic minorities, stop playing in the international arena (you are not the CIA), and stop behaving like the FSB.
Stay home and focus on cyber, financial crimes, and domestic issues including White Nationalists and militarization of law enforcement; stop under-reporting hate crimes; stop expanding your scope and power into our private sector; stop crying about encryption and begin with transparency and access. Respect our 1st and 4th, and stop your overgrown and useless TSC watch list nonsense; it is a waste of taxpayers money and a constant reminder and a challenge to our nation's harmony, liberal demoracy and a threat our multi-cultural way of life. How are you performing against Cyber Crime?

Anonymous

So call for PENCE'S impeachment too. It's not like with Nixon/Ford. Pence probably ALSO knew it was happening.
I think the whole Republican presidency needs to be revoked but I'm sure you can't do that - and PENCE is in no WAY worse than someone who has talked about us "needing more nuclear weapons." I haven't heard Pence say ANYthing about nuclear warheads. Trump has discussed wanting more nuclear weapons on more than one occasion.

Lackey

Pence is a clueless trump lackey! He doesn't know shit, he has no FBI or other agency friends that have any real information. He is waiting for Trumps impeachment so he and Sessions can start their religious agenda. Pence and Sessions are Americas worst enemy, they will unleash a religious Jihad on America!

Leroy Jones

Look folks, I can't believe how much you toe the DNC narrative of their loss of the election, while ignoring the truths revealed about their dirty tricks. Bernie was the one person who would have made the changes you say we, I am a monthly donor by the way, but his candidacy was trampled by the party. Why not investigate election fraud which was blatant by both parties, rather than this straw man Putin and Russian intervention which has no credibility and absolutely no evidence even after being investigated by 17 different security agencies. If your candidate would have won we would still have corporate ownership of the government and the lady assassin would have us in a war with Russia at the expense of funding social programs which the ACLU supports I assume, correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears as if you would prefer having a Democrat war monger in office than renewed emphasis on social welfare programs and or job creation, which Bernie could have accomplished easily with a quarter of the pentagon's war wasted tax dollars. If you don't stop the partisan agenda and serve all the people, even Trump voters and those who did not want another corrupt Clinton regime, I as a man who fights for justice for all, as I thought the ACLU did, will withdraw my monthly support, I am disgusted and disappointed!

Walter Eisner

I too am a financial supporter with concern that my ACLU is getting a bit partisan. Nothing wrong with calling for a special investigation, but should withhold opinions about motives and speculations. Stick to specific threats to civil liberties. We must be the voice of the adults in the room. Tread lightly. Keep the powder dry for the courtroom. Plenty of others shouting in the political arena.

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Anonymous

Hello,

Thanks for this article. There are many constitutional concerns about our pres. However, before talking about impeachment, we need some answers. The Constitution is great, but who is upholding it? What can the ACLU do, aside from speak up, with regard to Russian election interference, possible executive branch collusion, countless ethics infringements, and near certain emoluments? If there is a case for impeachment, it will not happen until we have more information and/or the public is behind it.

Legal action? Ad campaigns? Rallies?

We need something. Our democracy is on life-support, at best.

Anonymous

The term "Independent" should mean that an oath-sworn official, first and foremost, upholds the U.S. Constitution - which includes following the Bill of Rights.

Neither Comey nor most DOJ officials are "independent" upholding their constitutional oath of office.

Ironically Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou and others had fidelity to their constitutional oath - all were demonized by Comey and DOJ officials.

Top secret and classified actions are "subordinate" to bureaucrats' supreme loyalty oath to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Comey and many (not all) DOJ officials were complicit in violating the "supreme law of the land" under Article VI of the United States Constitution.

We should have "independent" oath-sworn watchdog agencies but nobody is telling the truth about what that means.

oath swearing

Independent "Oath Swearing Wathcdogs" are called the gestapo! The Nazis routinely required people to "re-swear" their oaths to both government and the party. What is "independent"? Your party? How can independence prevent the "supreme law of the land" from being one of the Nazis or Communists?

Oaths are in themselves fascist and support blind oath to one "set" of laws or another. Oaths allow the killing and imprisonment of citizens for not taking an oath.

Ban oaths. Here's my "Oath"!

I promise to "God" that I will try to be a "good" person. I shall help others in need. I shall not persecute them or require they follow any religion or philosophy that is my own. I understand all humans are free beings created by the universe for their own purpose. I will tolerate all humans in whatever their condition and teach peace, love and understanding in all situations. I will reject Hate, I will Love!

Anonymous

Good, he was fired. His programs targeted ethnic minorities and turned the U.S. into Nazi Germany. Under his command, the agency neglected and violated the constitution of the United States openly and without any consequences. I would argue for consolidating and dissolving current functions into the DHS. It is time for a change, and for the U.S. to move past the age of policing Mobsters and Bankers. The DHS is more than capable of handling these tasks.

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