Dimensions of Trump’s troubles grow wider than scope of Watergate scandal
Last week, at the International Republican Institute dinner, Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican, reportedly said the scandals within President Donald Trump’s administration are reaching a “Watergate size and scale.”
McCain’s comment was prescient; within hours of his speech Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to conduct the Russia investigation. Mueller will oversee an investigation that has the potential to be even more consequential than Watergate.
Here is why Trump’s problems are worse than Watergate. First, President Richard Nixon obstructed justice when he tried to cover up a “third-rate” burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. President Trump allegedly intervened in an investigation into possible collusion by his administration and campaign with Russia, a foreign power and long-time nemesis of the U.S.
Second, Nixon was 51/2 years into his presidency when he came under scrutiny and ultimately resigned. President Trump is a little more than 100 days into his presidency and senior members of his own party are comparing him to a former president that resigned in the face of impeachment.
Third, there are no voices of dissent within the Trump administration – with the possible exception of FBI Director James B. Comey who Trump fired.
There was resistance in the Nixon administration. When Nixon sought to fire special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox – he was initially defied by the Department of Justice.
In 1973, President Nixon demanded the Department of Justice fire Cox for refusing to obey the president’s order to abandon his demand for the “White House tapes.” Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned rather than dismiss Cox.
When Nixon turned to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox, Ruckelshaus chose to resign as well. Finally, the Solicitor General Robert Bork carried out the demand.
When Trump “decided” to fire Comey, not only did the Justice Department not balk, senior Justice officials aided and abetted the president. Attorney General Jeff Sessions – who had recused himself from the Russia investigation – consulted with the president immediately before the firing.
Rosenstein also met with Trump before the firing, where, according to the Wall Street Journal, they discussed Director Comey’s job performance. At the White House’s request, Rosenstein wrote a memo to the president detailing his concerns about the director’s conduct. After President Trump pointed the finger at Rosenstein to support Comey’s firing, he was left with no alternative but to appoint a special counsel.
Has President Trump obstructed justice?
First, he fires Comey who as director of the FBI is overseeing an investigation of Trump’s administration and Trump’s campaign, right after Comey reportedly asked for more money and agents for the campaign.
Trump suggested during an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he was thinking about the “fake” Russia investigation when he fired Comey. However, Trump said at the time of Comey’s firing that the reason behind it was the mistreatment of Hillary Clinton during the email investigation – the same investigation that Trump rallied behind during his presidential campaign.
The New York Times reported that President Trump asked Comey in January to pledge loyalty to him and that Comey refused to do so. According to sources, the director pledged honesty and independence.
Last week we learned that President Trump allegedly asked Comey in February to drop the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. Comey apparently has notes memorializing the meeting.
Nixon covered up a bungled break-in, and it cost him the presidency. President Bill Clinton faced impeachment for covering up a tryst in the White House. President Trump may well have attempted to obstruct the investigation into his administration’s ties to a major foreign power and his campaign’s possible collusion with that power.
Now Robert Mueller will investigate whether Mr. Trump committed a crime.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino)