President Donald Trump’s astonishing firing of FBI director James Comey raised throughout Washington the inevitable question: Is this Watergate?
While Watergate was sui generis and is likely to remain so, Trump’s metastasizing crisis, and Washington’s reaction to it, make for a discomfiting reminder of that period, reported Politico Magazine. And suddenly it seems increasingly possible it could end the same way.
As it did during Watergate, in the spreading Trump scandal, all of Washington fixates on the latest development, virtually to the exclusion of what had preoccupied five minutes earlier.
Thus the firing of Comey, for the moment at least, displaced the city’s and the national media’s obsession since as long as the day before with the question of it took so long for Trump to fire Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, after the acting attorney general at the time, Sally Yates, informed the White House counsel that Flynn had been compromised by Russia.
As the stunning news of Comey’s firing spread through Washington on Tuesday evening, the reactions were similar to those when a previous president fired his chief investigator: astonishment, a kind of ghoulish humor, plus deep unease at a president behaving so far outside of traditional norms. The fear that permeated the Washington atmosphere during Watergate hasn’t quite developed, but some of the elements of the story—in particular, a vindictive president seeming out of control—are in place for that to happen as well.
Like Richard Nixon, Trump has a propensity for ridding himself of those who presented a threat to him. Nixon’s elimination of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, even if he had to fire a couple of attorneys general until he got to a Justice Department official, Robert Bork, who would carry out the deed, was the point at which the word “impeachment” began to be on people’s lips. Until then the idea was too outsized and even alarming to consider.
No president had ever been removed from office by the constitutionally designated congressional act of impeaching (the House) and convicting (the Senate) a president. Cox was demanding that Nixon turn over the tape recordings of his Oval Office conversations, which Nixon was – understandingly, as it turned out – of no mind to do. Comey was seeking information possibly at least as damning, and perhaps worse. We can get too used to a question until it returns in full force: What if the president, or his close associates, colluded with a hostile foreign power to win the office?
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