Two questions: What should be done with the federal probe into Russian influence on American elections, and who should lead the FBI?
Those will be the key considerations, going forward, once everybody overcomes initial outrage about President Trump's justifiable, but abrupt and ham-handed, firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Already, leading Democrats are pulling out the crutch always favored by whichever party is momentarily out of power: They are demanding a "special prosecutor" for the inquiry concerning Russia.
It's a terrible idea.
The better idea is to produce the right answer to the second question, and let that new FBI director just do his job.
A special prosecutor is almost always a bad idea, and these specific circumstances are not ones that would make an ordinarily bad course of action into a good one. It's ordinarily ill-advised because special prosecutors by their very nature are prone to going rogue. Operating at least somewhat outside the usual chain of command, without the usual prosecutorial constraints, and with a perverse incentive to "get a scalp" (a conviction) to justify his own existence, a special prosecutor can easily become abusive.
Comey's good buddy Patrick Fitzgerald, for example, went way overboard as a special prosecutor in persecuting former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby during which Fitzgerald desperately tried to link Vice President Dick Cheney to some crime, any crime. In doing so, he almost certainly secured a conviction of an innocent man.
And while an "independent counsel" (a creature whose legal existence thankfully has since expired) is not the exact same thing as a special prosecutor, the latter shares many of the deformities that almost everybody lamented about its earlier prosecutorial close cousin. Even today, you can probably hear echoing the Left's howls about what some considered the overkill effect of IC Kenneth Starr's careful but controversial investigation that led to former President Bill Clinton's impeachment.
What's needed for the Russia investigation isn't a super-Javert accountable mostly to his own sense of importance, but rather a reinvigoration of the ordinary chain of command, accountable to multiple means of constitutional oversight. The problem with Comey, for example, wasn't that he was too "political" in any one direction, but rather that he was too much of a self-important grandstander. He acted like a special prosecutor without the title.
What is needed not just for the Russia probe but for the overall health of the FBI — and, more broadly, of the cause of justice that federal law enforcement is supposed to serve — is for the agency to act with sober professionalism rather than treat the probe as so earth-shaking that it requires departures from all normal rules of procedure.
This means the bureau needs a low-key, high-energy, uber-competent, well-experienced director. It needs a director fully capable of professionally and ably running the entire bureau without political considerations, while reassuring all sides that the particular Russia-linked investigation is being handled not specially, but absolutely by the book.
The ideal candidate should have ample experience as a federal prosecutor, thorough understanding of the workings of both the FBI and the Justice Department as a whole, considerable knowledge of counterterrorism issues, and, preferably, a grasp of federal inter-agency dynamics.
But while he (or she) must be somebody entirely acceptable to Trump's base of "law-and-order" voters, preferably with decent relationships with the current Republican majority, he or she should be overwhelmingly seen as an apolitical pro, not as a partisan.
In particular — and this is an absolutely key requirement under current circumstances — he should be someone clearly not from the political orbits of Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. The best choice, indeed, would be somebody who offered no visible support for Trump's campaign, perhaps even a record as a Trump skeptic. He or she must be someone, in short, whose motives will not be questioned no matter what becomes the ultimate resolution to the Russia probe.
Even in a highly-polarized Washington environment, there are more of these people than one might think — people with sterling resumes who have earned praise from both parties while avoiding ideological or partisan warfare. (This would rule out, for example, someone who has served in elective office, or law-school buddies of Trump intimates.)
So, to recap: No special prosecutor. No outsized egos.
And, for director of the FBI, no Trump insider or big supporter, period. The FBI needs a leader but not a show-off, a law-man but not a yes-man. A man who with nothing to prove — except, of course, to prove the facts.
Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner.
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