Last week, President Donald Trump made a move that could end the FBI’s investigation of him.
Oregon’s two U.S. senators say Trump only spurred them to further seek the truth.
The sudden firing of the FBI director, James B. Comey, on May 9 presents a test of American institutions by a president who no longer feels bound by them.
Trump, who has long expressed admiration for autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, acted in their mold last week: He fired the man who was leading the investigation of his presidential campaign for potentially colluding with Russian agents to sway the 2016 election. Then he admitted on television that when he canned Comey, he was fed up with the FBI’s pursuit of “this Russia thing.”
An FBI memo, revealed May 16 by The New York Times, says Trump asked Comey in February to end his inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Moscow. “I hope you can let this go,” the president allegedly said.
For many in Washington, D.C., the firing of Comey amounted to a declaration by the president that if he was in trouble with the law, he would just fire the lawman.
It marked the most brazen interference with a high-level criminal investigation since President Richard Nixon fired the independent special prosecutor digging into Watergate. It raised new questions about Trump’s fitness for office and his independence from foreign agents—doubts given more credence by May 15 revelations that Trump disclosed classified intelligence in a meeting last week with Russian officials.
And it adds to the evidence that the president, who gets his news—on a good day—from Fox and communicates through his stream-of-consciousness Twitter account, is warping the American government into a game show.
Among those who will be tested by Trump’s chutzpah: U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.
Since November, Wyden and Merkley have been among the most vocal Democrats regarding Trump’s ties to Russia. They both demanded an independent special prosecutor to examine the Trump campaign, raising the cry months before Comey’s firing. On the floor of Congress and in town-hall meetings across Oregon, they have called for a grassroots rebellion against the president.
Now, they are positioned to lead that movement.
Wyden is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—the body leading the inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race. He and Merkley both could be part of closed-door conclaves of U.S. senators who, in coming weeks, will examine the evidence gathered by intelligence services against Trump and decide on next steps.
In the wake of the Comey firing, Willamette Week asked the two senators to discuss the growing national crisis.
In the following pages, you’ll read excerpts from our interviews with Wyden and Merkley, expansive conversations conducted in the days following Comey’s firing.
Both men say Trump’s actions represent an unprecedented challenge to the rule of law, a signal of real interference by foreign powers, and a threat to American democracy.