The craziest thing about Christopher Wray's Wednesday confirmation hearing to be FBI director was how normal it seemed.
Yes, he was asked about James Comey. Yes, he was asked about Donald Trump Jr. And yes, he offered assurances that he'd be an independent director who would resist exhortations to "loyalty" by his bosses.
"My loyalty," Wray told his Senate inquisitors, "is to the Constitution and the rule of law."
Wray said all the right things. He probably even meant them. He seems honest and eminently qualified. But given the shadow of scandal that enveloped the hearing, it's remarkable that no senator stood up and said: "No. No, we're not going to do this!" Everybody, even Democrats, seemed to be on board with the idea that President Trump should get to choose Comey's successor.
That's crazy. Wray may be a worthy nominee. But he shouldn't be confirmed to be FBI director — not now at least.
There's an old legal concept known as "the fruit of a poisonous tree." The idea is that if evidence is tainted — say, if police got a confession without reading a suspect his rights — then all information learned as a result of that evidence is inadmissible in court. The message to lawyers is clear: You don't get to take advantage of doing things the wrong way.
American government is not a court of law. But with President Trump, there's plenty of reason to think that the tree — the whole damned orchard, in fact— is filled with toxins.
Remember: Wray is only up for the job of FBI director because Trump fired Comey in a self-admitted attempt to try and quash the Russia investigation. Robert Mueller, the independent counsel, is now reportedly investigating Trump for obstruction of justice in the firing. It can't be said enough: That firing apparently came about because Trump was fed up with Comey's public failure to exonerate him in the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election.
Don't forget, too, that recent days have brought new evidence and allegations of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians. Donald Trump Jr. has admitted meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised to provide "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; officials are now reportedly investigating if the campaign helped Russian cyber operatives target "fake news" blasts for maximum electoral advantage.
A poisoned tree? Right now, it looks like poisoned fruit all the way down.
President Trump and his associates might eventually be declared innocent of all the charges, allegations, and innuendoes that have been leveled against them. We're still in the middle of this process. But just as it would be unwise for an accused bank robber to go on a spending spree while under investigation, so it seems ill-advised to let President Trump fill this particular job while there are still legal questions about why it opened in the first place. The firing of James Comey isn't a piece of disinformation planted by a foreign government, or "fake news" from the mainstream media — President Trump sat in front of a camera and told the nation the firing of Comey was connected to the Russia investigation.
"And in fact when I decided to just do it," he told NBC's Lester Holt, "I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won'."
Now, there is a problem with the "poisoned tree" analogy: If followed through to its logical conclusion, the executive branch of government would come grinding to a halt. Indeed, many liberals feel the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court is one of those tainted fruits.
But the truth is, government must continue to function even in these extreme times. The American people need and expect IRS checks to be mailed, the nation to be defended, and all the other functions of government to continue. Like it or not, we'll be living with Trumpian governance awhile yet.
The firing of James Comey is so extreme, though, that Trump shouldn't be allowed to get away with it and reap its advantages so transparently.
These are not normal times. The Senate should acknowledge that — and block Christopher Wray's nomination until the Russia investigation is resolved.