Yes, it"s favor Watergate: Trump"s actions have made a murky scandal much worse. However it could not finish the same way


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Richard Nixon; Donald trumped (AP/Matt Rourke)
In the after-effects of chairman Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, the expression “It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up” entered the cultural mainstream, moving from being a politics catchphrase to the type of thing supplied in hackneyed televised cop shows.

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But in a year once the current president is engulfed in a scandal special a person who is called Reality Winner, the shopworn expression from the 1970s has actually returned with a vengeance.

The Trump-Russia story has actually long been compared to the Watergate scandal and reached a Nixonesque high allude on Thursday as previous FBI manager James Comey testified prior to the Senate intelligence Committee. No legislation enforcement agency has thus much found any evidence indicating the President Donald trump colluded v Russian public representative in order to win the 2016 presidential election. In ~ the exact same time, Trump appears to have actually taken several actions related come the examination that were, at best, exceptionally naïve and also inappropriate. At worst, they might well stand for obstruction of justice.

According to Comey, Trump thought about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to it is in a “cloud” end his administration. However instead of forcing White House and also former project officials come expedite their cooperation with the legislation enforcement agency, trump instead chose to repeatedly apply pressure top top Comey to speed things up on his end.

The chairman was specifically insistent around trying to assist Michael Flynn, the onetime head of the Defense Intelligence firm who was compelled out for odd behavior during the management of previous President Barack Obama however later rental by Trump as national security adviser.

Comey testifed around a Feb. 14 conference (documented by the in a memorandum written immediately afterward) in between Trump and himself in the Oval Office that followed a program counterterrorism briefing attend by Attorney general Jeff Sessions, senior adviser Jared Kushner and several various other military and also intelligence officials.

After jointly dismissing the rather — and Kushner and also Sessions explicitly as they lingered, perhaps learning what was about to transpire — the chairman told Comey the he want to talk about Flynn. The latter had resigned indigenous his position just the day before, after indigenous got out that he had made false statements to Vice chairman Mike Pence about pre-inauguration conversations v Russian government officials.

"He is a great guy and also has been v a lot,” trump card began during his private meeting with Comey, follow to his testimony. He then asserted the Flynn had actually done nothing dorn in speaking to the Russians, just that he had actually failed come tell the truth about his conversations.

After alluding to other (unspecified) concerns about Flynn, the president climate asked Comey if it was feasible for him to end the separate criminal inquiry that the FBI had actually opened right into Flynn’s conduct.

“I hope you can see your means clear come letting this go, to letting Flynn go. The is a an excellent guy. I hope you can let this go,” trumped said, follow to Comey.

Although Trump"s request was not explicitly phrased together a demand, Comey said on Thursday the he couldn’t aid but interpret it as one.

“It ring in my ear as, well, "Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest,"” Comey said, to express an apocryphal story about England’s King Henry II and his indirect order come murder cutting board Becket, a bishop who had actually opposed his rule.

Comey declined to earlier off on Flynn or any kind of other element of the Russia investigation and was consequently fired by the chairman on may 9. Automatically thereafter, the White home concocted an intricate and clear false series of explanations around why the FBI head had been sacked, citing a memorandum written by Deputy Attorney basic Rod Rosenstein that had small or nothing to do with Trump’s decision.

According come Comey, the president’s Feb. 14 inquiry was the most explicit of lot of attempts make by Trump to manage the Russia inquiry.

In his Thursday hear testimony, Comey also said indigenous the very beginning that Trump’s tenure, the felt it vital to file his interactions v the president, unlike his sentiments while dealing through Obama and also former chairman George W. Bush.

“I knew there could come a day as soon as I would require a record of what had happened, not simply to safeguard myself, however to safeguard the FBI and also our integrity together an institution and the independence of ours investigative function,” Comey said after Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., asked him why the previous FBI director chose to keep detailed records the his conversations with Trump.

Following Comey’s testimony, White house deputy push secretary buy it Huckabee Sanders strong denied that Trump had actually asked because that an finish to the Flynn investigation, as the previous FBI director had stated.

“I can definitively to speak the president is no a liar,” Sanders said. “It’s frankly insulting that the question would it is in asked.”

She was smart to deliver those words turn off camera, offered how similar they room to Nixon’s renowned phrase “People have gained to know whether or not their chairman is a crook. Well, I"m not a crook.”

That superficial similarity is far from the just parallel that Thursday’s affair has actually in common with the Watergate scandal, however. Both events appear to result from misplaced loyalty of a president for subordinates allegedly associated with criminal acts on his behalf.

As john Dean, the former law enforcement main who became a witness versus Nixon (another parallel perhaps?), wrote in his publication “The Nixon Defense: What the Knew and When he Knew It,” there is no evidence that the chairman told his campaign skunkworks staffers come burglarize the autonomous National Committee"s office. They went ahead and did it anyway, certainly with assurances indigenous presidential adviser john Ehrlichman.

While the Watergate burglary was component of a much bigger cloak-and-dagger procedure of the Nixon re-election campaign — including an order to bomb the Brookings institution (which was never carried out or report on until years later) — that quite feasible Nixon can have quarantined the scandal away from the White House had he simply reduced off the thieves and also their prompt paymaster, previous intelligence operative Howard Hunt.

Instead, the famously peevish president chose to involved the assist of his underlings. In the process, that took under his entire management as the lies and cover-up tactics increased into orders to use the CIA to throw the FBI off its investigation into the break-in. What started as a “third-rate burglary” ended up being a constitutional crisis.

Similarly, if Donald Trump had actually been ready to reduced off Flynn and also any others who had been accused that trying come grift off American and also Russian taxpayers, he could never have actually arrived at the point of asking Comey come rescue Flynn, and also thereby face potential dues of obstruction. If the original counterintelligence investigation had actually been about make the efforts to figure out what the Russians had done in their efforts to affect the American chairman election, the resulting scandal is now largely around the president"s response. Trump, prefer Nixon, couldn’t resist meddling in the — and can’t store his mouth shut.

The result may be the an examination of an event that Trump as soon as dismissed together the job-related of a random, unskilled hacker (“somebody sit on their bed that weighs 400 pounds”) might end up damaging Trump"s presidency, specifically after the volunteered in a press interview that he had fired Comey explicitly for his failure to bring the Russia probe to an end.

Of course, one major difference native the Watergate scandal is the Trump"s party controls both homes of Congress, at least for now. As lengthy as the president remains close come the conference Republicans" conservative policy agenda and also remains come be beneficial to them, the Russian influence scandal and also resulting cover-up might not finish with Trump"s removal indigenous office.

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There"s another way that the present imbroglio differs from the Watergate scandal together well. Best after Nixon make his famous “I am no a crook” proclamation, he ended up being the very first president to relax his private income tax returns, start a heritage that Donald Trump has actually famously refused to follow.

Matthew Sheffield

A writer, internet developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield consists politics, media, and an innovation for princetoneclub.org. You deserve to email him via m.sheffield