NIXON & TRUMP
THE BEGINNING OF THE END
In the 1976 movie All The President’s Men, a chronicle of two Washington Post reporters unraveling the scandal that would take down Richard Nixon, the mysterious Deep Throat kept advising the young reporters: Follow the money.
The linguistics professor turned political analyst Noam Chomsky advised his readers that if they really wanted to know what was going on in government, they should read the Wall Street Journal – not the editorial page which is bald faced, rightwing propaganda but the factual reportage, the numbers, the trail of money.
The day following the revelation that Donald Trump attempted to stop the FBI investigation into the wrongdoings of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, the Dow Jones industrial average fell over 300 points – down 372.82 at the closing bell. It was the largest drop since Trump was elected. While it does not necessarily signal the end of the Trump rally it does say the smart money is now betting against this president. The market loves Trump. The market had already banked anticipated dividends from tax cuts, deregulation and exploitation of the environment. Now everything is on hold. A wounded president collects no favors. A paralyzed president has no leverage. A toxic president has no friends.
Is this the beginning of the end? The smart money says it is – maybe. You always want to hedge your bets.
A brief recap of recent events: FBI Director James Comey is abruptly relieved of duty. The White House issues an obvious cover story involving Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails and pins the blame on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein refuses to serve as the fall guy and the president promptly and publicly admits he fired Comey for his handling of the Russia Gate investigation. Trump hosts the Russian ambassador and foreign minister to the Oval Office where, according to a Washington Post report, he reveals classified information. Democrats demand a special prosecutor and Republicans are unusually mum.
Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee says the White House is in a “downward spiral.” It seems the president is going under and everyone knows what happens when you try to help a drowning man.
The New York Times reports a February 14 memo authored by James Comey the day after he met with the president behind closed doors and without a witness: It says the president asked him to lay off Flynn in the wake of the National Security Advisor’s resignation.
We can conclude at this point that the president is either guilty of obstruction of justice or is stupid as hell or both. How any reasonable person could arrive at any other conclusion is impossible to imagine.
It is apparent that Rod Rosenstein came to that conclusion along with everyone else that lives in a world where reason still applies. Without delay he appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to take over the Russia Gate investigation as special counsel, i.e., special prosecutor. The appointment provides sufficient latitude, independence and resources to virtually assure an unbiased investigation.
Rosenstein took no chances. He informed the president and his staff only after the appointment was signed, sealed and delivered. It’s a done deal.
There is no joy in the West Wing tonight.
Vladimir Putin tried to lift the president’s spirits by offering to release his transcript of Trump’s meeting with the two Sergei’s: Lavrov and Kislyak. Fascinating. It seems someone in that room recorded the conversation and it was not an American. Putin joked that his foreign minister had failed to share his secrets with him or Russian intelligence.
The walls are closing in. At this point there is no one who wishes to be engaged in a conversation with the president for fear that his or her words might be recorded. No one wishes to cooperate with the president for fear that he or she might be swept into the lair. What do you say when the president asks you for a pledge of loyalty?
Who dares tell the president that firing the FBI Director for conducting an investigation into his misdeeds is not only inappropriate and morally reprehensible but also illegal?
Who tells the president that when he asked Comey to lay off Flynn he committed obstruction of justice?
Trump thought he was the king. He thought he was the emperor. He thought he could do and say anything he wanted and they’d let him do it.
Along comes a bureaucrat, a simple civil servant, with just enough nerve to inform the president who thought he was an emperor that he has no clothes.
This is the beginning of the end.
Unfortunately, justice moves like a tortoise through quicksand: slow and slower.
In the Nixon-Watergate case: Archibald Cox is named Special Prosecutor to investigate Watergate in May 1973. In October Nixon fires Cox, triggering the resignations now known as the Saturday Night Massacre. In November Leon Jaworski is appointed as the new special prosecutor. In March 1974 Nixon is named as an unindicted co-conspirator with seven of his aides. In April Jaworski surprises the president by issuing a subpoena for sixty-four White House tapes. Nixon releases edited transcripts of the tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. Congress demands the unedited tapes. Nixon refuses. In May the House Judiciary Committee begins impeachment hearings. In July Nixon loses his appeal to the Supreme Court and is ordered to hand over the tapes. On August 9, after the release of the infamous “smoking gun” tape, Nixon resigns.
It took fifteen months from the naming of a Special Prosecutor to Nixon’s resignation. That is probably the best we can hope for in the Trump Gate case.
There is a lot of harm that can be done in fifteen months. How many more productive and law abiding immigrants will be deported in the next fifteen months? How many more missiles will be dropped in foreign lands? How many wars will be initiated or prolonged? How many rivers will be poisoned? How much carbon dioxide will be injected into our atmosphere? Fifteen months takes us to the midterm elections.
There are major differences between Watergate and Trump Gate. Despite inexplicable actions – firing the special prosecutor and recording conversations in the Oval Office – Nixon was a highly skilled politician with a deep understanding of how Washington works. Trump is not.
Trump fired Comey not knowing or understanding the impact it would have on the press, the public and members of congress. Nixon would not have made that mistake. Trump admitted that he fired Comey out of concern for the Russia investigation and compounded the error by meeting with agents of the Russian government in the Oval Office. Nixon would not have made those mistakes. Trump apparently revealed state secrets in that meeting. Nixon definitely would not have made that mistake.
Nixon acted out of desperation when he fired Cox. The vultures were circling and the existence of the tapes was public knowledge. Trump had no apparent need to panic.
The hope now is that Trump continues to act on impulse and against his own interests. If he alienates his core support and members of his own party abandon ship, the process could be accelerated. We are hoping for arrogance and ignorance at a level we never expected to witness in an American president. It could happen.
In any case we must continue the resistance. Each of us in our own ways – protesting in the streets, civil disobedience, letters to the editor, emails to our representatives, phone calls to senators – must make it hard for our president and his still loyal minions to do anything at all.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CHRONICLES, GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION, PAWNS TO PLAYERS, NUMBER NINE AND TWO VOLUMES OF PLAYS (CROW DOG PRESS).