Next step is to look at "whether there has been a sufficient abuse to justify removing the president," says Richard Painter
James Comey was fired by President Trump Tuesday. Zach Gibson/Getty
An ethics lawyer who served in George W. Bush's White House is calling on Congress to investigate President Trump's abrupt dismissal on Tuesday of FBI Director James Comey. Richard Painter tells Rolling Stone the surprise move is a clear-cut abuse of power.
"We cannot tolerate this – for the president to be firing people who are investigating him and his campaign and its collusion with the Russians," Painter says. "It's a lot worse than Watergate. Watergate was a third-rate burglary. It was purely domestic in nature. This situation involves Russian espionage, and we've got to find out who is collaborating."
Trump removed Comey on Tuesday afternoon, acting, the president said in a statement, on the advice of both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Painter is not encouraged by Trump's insistence that the decision was based on Sessions' recommendation. "The attorney general was also part of the contacts made by the Trump campaign with Russia. The attorney general lied about that to the Senate at his confirmation hearing," he says.
It's unusual for an FBI director to be summarily fired the way Comey was. (He reportedly learned of his dismissal from a TV screen flashing news of it while addressing bureau employees in Los Angeles.) FBI directors typically serve a 10-year term, and Comey was only confirmed to his position in 2013.
Painter does not believe Trump had grounds for the firing. "The president has the right to do it – legally he can do it – but it's an abuse of power. It's what President Nixon did when he fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor, and Nixon had to go through three attorneys general to do it – he had to fire two attorneys general for refusing to fire Cox," he says.
"This time around the attorney general is [involved] in it himself, and he went along with this and he may have encouraged it, so we have a clear abuse of power."