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President Donald J. Trump has made headline after headline these past few weeks for his unconventional firing of FBI Director James Comey, and for his relationship with Russia. These instances have created turmoil in American politics and news coverage, and have left many wanting to weigh in on the happenings.
The Lantern spoke with faculty members in political science and history, as well as students on both sides of the political spectrum on the matters and received reactions ranging from alarm to satisfaction with the president’s actions.
The firing of Comey was announced May 9, surprising the nation and immediately drawing criticism from House and Senate Democrats for being politically motivated.
According to multiple reports spanning the last few months, the FBI has been investigating both the nature of interference by the Russian government with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. After accusations of Flynn misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the substance of that contact began to mount, Flynn resigned from his post on Feb. 13, though the FBI investigation continues.
Upon Comey’s firing, many pundits and political leaders cried foul, claiming the firing was an attempt to curb these investigations. On Tuesday, one week after the firing, the New York Times reported the existence of a memo written by Comey describing an incident in February where Trump said to Comey “I hope you can let this go,” in reference to the Flynn investigation.
In agreement with much of the criticism is Ohio State history professor Peter Mansoor, a longtime Republican who said he broke rank and voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election out of concern that Trump would be a danger to national security.
“The president himself has acknowledged that Russia was on his mind when he fired Comey,” Mansoor said, referring to a May 11 interview Trump gave to NBC News’ Lester Holt. “That, I think, is astonishing given that the FBI was investigating potential collusion between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.”
Mansoor also said that the contents of Comey’s February memo may be an obstruction of justice, though he didn’t offer further elaboration on this claim.
Nick Davis, a fourth-year in natural resource management and president of Ohio State Students for Trump, said he was not bothered by the Comey firing overall, but felt the timing could have been better.
Davis also said he doesn’t think the known contents of Comey’s memo describe an obstruction of justice.
“(Trump) wasn’t telling James Comey ‘hey, stop this investigation,’” he said. “If James Comey thought that it was obstruction of justice, then he could have reported it to the (Attorney General Jeff Sessions) or (Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente) … back when it happened, back in February.”
Davis added that Trump’s lack of political experience — the presidency is the first public office he has ever held — means he is untrained in the nuances of how to communicate with personnel like Comey, leading to statements intended as casual being interpreted as formal.
Herb Asher, professor emeritus of political science at OSU, said the specific manner in which the firing was handled — the reasons stated by the president and his spokespeople changed multiple times, and Comey himself found out he was fired when TV reports announced it — increased public suspicion about Trump administration ties to Russia.
“When you have a difficult story, you don’t want to create more stories and you don’t want to be inconsistent or tell different spins or different versions, because then that just makes the initial decision even more puzzling to people,” Asher said.
The suspicions about Russia extend beyond the 2016 election interference, he said, adding that many of Trump’s foreign policy positions seem favorable to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“If you think back even during the campaign, there’s (then-candidate Trump) trashing NATO,” Asher said. “Who’s happy to hear that? Putin.”
Asher also said Trump’s enthusiasm for the 2016 so-called “Brexit” vote by British citizens to exit the European Union was another policy favorable to Putin.
He said that Putin’s overall agenda seems to be deconstructing the post-World War II Western alliance, something he doesn’t think would be a positive trade-off in exchange for the U.S. having warmer relations with Russia.
“If that really means (Trump is) going to have a set of policies that encourage Putin to continue to try to reassert his dominance over former countries that were in the (former Soviet Union), well that’s not serving America’s interest,” Asher said.
Davis doesn’t think there is any connection between Trump and Russia and said that “no one actually believes” there is, though there is no proof of evidence to support this claim.
“(Senate minority leader) Chuck Schumer doesn’t believe it, (House minority leader) Nancy Pelosi doesn’t believe it,” he said. “It’s all just politics, that’s all it is.”
Russia figured heavily in the news again Monday when the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that Trump revealed highly classified intelligence gathered by a U.S. ally about ISIS to Russian diplomats.
“The fact that the president told the Russians about this information without getting permission from the ally that provided it could make U.S. allies in the future much more reticent to share classified information with the United States,” Mansoor said. “Hopefully that won’t be the case, but this is a serious issue with a president who seems to have a very short attention span and doesn’t read his briefing materials closely.”
Jake Vasilj, a fourth-year in political science and president of the OSU College Democrats, expressed similar concerns.
“Now he can’t even be trusted with classified information,” Vasilj said of Trump. “It’s really disheartening, and it’s really kind of scary as a nation. We’ve already seen this have impact. Some European (allies) have said they’re no longer as inclined to share intelligence with the U.S. and it’s going to make allies across the world upset that we’re sharing more information with an adversary, Russia, than we are with our allies.”
Davis said he thought the president was within his rights to declassify and disclose the information, especially since both the U.S. and Russia are working to take down ISIS.
Between the Comey firing, the reported disclosure of classified intelligence and the revelation of the Comey memo, talk of impeachment and removal from office has surfaced among Trump’s critics.
Vasilj said he thinks impeachment proceedings would be unlikely, given Republican control of both the House and Senate, but said he would favor Trump’s removal even though it would likely put another figure whose policies Vasilj opposes — Pence — in the Oval Office.
“I suppose fighting President Pence on policy issues versus being afraid that President Trump will give out secrets to our adversaries, I guess I would take the former,” Vasilj said.
Mansoor said he worries about how impeachment may affect the country.
“I hear people saying they want to see the president impeached, but it would be a heartrending moment for America,” he said. “And although it may come down to that as something that’s necessary, we shouldn’t cheer it.”
Davis said he believes the president is doing a great job by keeping his campaign promises. Not only does he think the president will serve his full term, but beyond.
“I look forward to seeing more from him over the next seven-and-a-half years,” he said, implying a Trump victory in the 2020 election. “I’m calling it.”