Critics Lash Out At Trump After He Fires FBI Director James Comey

May 14, 2017
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Let's turn now to NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Happy Mother's Day.

LIASSON: Oh, happy Mother's Day to you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Listening just now to our two supporters of President Trump, they're still with him. But there was a recent poll just this Wednesday, and it has his approval rating at 36 percent. You know, that rating isn't just among Trump voters or Republicans. But still it sends a message.

LIASSON: Yes. His approval rating is dropping. And it's now either in the high 30s to mid-to-low 40s. Where it settles, we'll know that that is his hardcore base, whether it's 37, 39, 41. These people are going to stick with him no matter what. The president is also paying very close attention to his base. You know, he gave that speech at Liberty University yesterday. White evangelicals are the core of his base. He delivered on Neil Gorsuch. He's rolling back Obama-era regulations. These are the things that his base and conservatives wanted most. They were willing to look beyond all the other aspects of Trump to get those things, and he has delivered. And he doesn't seem to feel that he needs to reach out much beyond that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What about the left? I see a whole political sector mobilized by Comey's firing. You know, you look on social media and cable news - they're calling for Trump's impeachment. What do you think when you hear calls like that? Is it feasible?

LIASSON: Well, no, I don't. And I think there's a lot of magical thinking on both ends of the political spectrum. You know, his supporters think he's rewritten the rules. And they'll tell me, well, it doesn't matter what he does. It doesn't matter what his approval ratings are. Remember during the campaign, he said he could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters. On the left, I think they are in the grip - many people - critics of him are in the grip of this delusion that he's going to be impeached or that we're in a full-fledged constitutional crisis.

So this is a phenomenon of our very tribalized politics. You know, someone criticizes your guy, and you cleave to him even more. People feel - his supporters feel he's being treated unfairly by the media. He certainly feels that too. I talked to a conservative yesterday who was accusing the media of Trump Derangement Syndrome because CNN was focusing on the fact that Trump gets two scoops of ice cream when everyone else gets one at the White House. So I think that Trump is a divisive figure, and he's divided America even more.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Trump Derangement Syndrome.

LIASSON: Well, there was also Obama Derangement Syndrome on the right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

LIASSON: You know, so this is a real phenomenon, unfortunately, of our politics today.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. Let's move back into the beltway for a moment. How are Republican lawmakers responding? They've got their own business to focus on right now, and this Comey story can't help.

LIASSON: No. In private, they are really gnashing their teeth. Some of them worry about Trump's stability. They - off the record, they'll call him prickly and emotional and undisciplined. They feel that everything he did this week is hurting their ability to focus on health care and taxes and the economy and jobs. They're worried that it's going to depress Republican candidate recruitment and help Democrats. But - this is important - publicly, they are standing with him. And only a small handful of Republicans have come out in support of a special prosecutor or a select committee to look into Russian meddling.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, there's no disputing that the FBI director serves at the pleasure of the president. So if this isn't a legal issue, the dismissal of Comey, then what is it?

LIASSON: Well, that's right. Legally, President Trump has the right to fire the FBI director for any reason or no reason at all. Whether this amounts to obstruction of justice is not clear. But there is a reason that, although there is no law requiring this, presidents have always upheld the norm of making sure that federal law enforcement is supposed to be independent. And that's why the FBI director gets a 10-year term. That's why presidents usually take care not to give even the appearance of interference in an FBI investigation, especially one relating to their own campaign.

And now we have the president saying he asked Comey to tell him if he was the subject of an investigation. He warned Comey about possible incriminating tapes that might have been made. And the reason that presidents used to uphold the norm, is that people need to have faith in democratic institutions and the rule of law. And in a democracy, it's important that people believe the system is not rigged and corrupt. So that's what Trump critics are worried about, not a full-blown constitutional crisis but the slow chipping away at democratic institutions and at the credibility of the presidency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.