by Erwin Chemerinsky, ACS Board Member; Dean and Raymond Pryke Professor of First Amendment Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law
President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey creates an urgent need for a special prosecutor, independent of the White House and the Justice Department, to investigate whether members of the Trump campaign team and administration violated federal law. Comey had been leading the investigation into Russian influence in the presidential election and whether crimes occurred. Comey’s termination, six years before the end of his term, raises the question of whether this was done to squelch this investigation and who will lead a thorough inquiry that will insure that the prosecution of any who violated federal laws.
There is strong evidence that crimes were committed. Michael Flynn, and perhaps others, appear to have violated federal statutes requiring registration as an agent of a foreign government and disclosures of payments from foreign governments. Moreover, it seems clear that Attorney General Sessions violated federal laws that prohibit lying to Congress.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, asked Sessions in a questionnaire if he had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day.” Sessions’s answer was "no." During the confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions what he would do if he learned of evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of the 2016 campaign. Sessions replied, “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians.”