“Trump Is Making It Too Easy to Compare Him to Nixon” blares the headline of an article in New York magazine. Too easy is the operative phrase in that title, which is inadvertently self-critiquing.
Almost the instant it was announced that President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the author of that article and other liberal commentators began screaming that Trump’s action was reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre.” For those who did not live through Watergate, the term refers to Nixon’s order on Oct. 20, 1973 that Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox be fired. Rather than comply, Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned, as did next-in-command Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
But that event and the Trump firing of Comey could not be more different. Here are six reasons why.
1) Good Job vs. Bad Job: In 1973, most observers of either party thought that Cox was doing a good job. In fact one of the reasons Richardson resigned was that he promised Congress that he wouldn’t use his authority to can the Watergate special prosecutor, unless for cause. On the other hand most Democrats who are complaining about the Comey firing believed he was doing a lousy job — until they found out Trump had fired him and saw this as another opening to attack the POTUS.
2) Subpoena: Nixon fired Cox in an attempt to avoid a subpoena demanding a copy of the infamous Nixon White House tapes. While there are reports that Mike Flynn has received a subpoena to testify, Trump hasn’t received a subpoena to turn over anything.
3) Evidence: Even without the White House tapes and before the “Saturday Night Massacre” we know several important facts, thanks to Woodward and Bernstein or testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee:
- According to the FBI the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort.
- Former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident.
- John Dean testified that he discussed the Watergate cover-up with President Nixon at least 35 times,
As of the day Comey was fired, there was no public evidence that Trump or anyone in his campaign colluded with the Russians to hack into the Hillary campaign or the DNC. In fact the same week of the firing, former Director of National Intelligence Clapper said so far there is no evidence of any collusion with Russia. Democratic Party hacks Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters concurred. That doesn’t mean that one day there won’t be evidence, but it does mean that President Trump wasn’t motivated by the walls closing in, the same way that people were preparing a “perp walk” for Nixon.
4) The Cox Firing Was Top Down; Comey’s Firing was Was Bottom Up: Cox was fired because Nixon ordered the firing. Comey was fired because his immediate supervisor Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein sent a letter to his boss AG Jeff Sessions saying that Comey was under-performing. Sessions agreed with the recommendation and sent it along to the President. Trump accepted the recommendation of his senior people and did the firing.
5) Timing: Nixon fired Cox the day after the special prosecutor refused a compromise that the president give the tapes to Senator John C. Stennis to review and summarize the tapes for the special prosecutor’s office. While Stennis, may have done the best he could, the Democrat from Mississippi was very hard of hearing and wouldn’t have been able to hear much of the tapes. Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who made the recommendation, has been in office for two weeks. He is just getting the lay of the land and evaluating his subordinates before sending his recommendation. Possibly accelerating the action was Comey’s awkward testimony last week where he bragged about going around the Department of Justice for his initial press conference in which he let Hillary Clinton off the hook.
6) Involvement: Archibald Cox was the Watergate prosecutor. In other words, his only job was to investigate the Watergate scandal. Comey was the director of the FBI, and the Russian investigation is one of hundreds of projects on his plate. With the Hillary investigation, Comey delegated the investigation to senior people in his staff and over a hundred agents. It’s doubtful that Comey was as hands on in the Russia investigation as Cox had to be with Watergate. The firing of Cox slowed down the Watergate investigation, whereas the firing of Comey will have no effect on the current investigation.
Claiming that the firing of Comey is reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Massacre” is pure hyperbole — and Bob Woodward agrees. He was interviewed by his own paper about the comparisons between the Saturday Night Massacre and the firing of Comey. Here’s what he had to say:
Cross-posted at The Lid