Yes, liberal talk of dumping Trump is premature, but we’re in deep and brackish waters now.
The best analogy to today’s madness is also the most recent—Watergate. In 1973, in what became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre,” President Nixon fired Attorney General Elliott Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William D. Ruckelshaus when they wouldn’t fire Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor.
The questions raised so far by Trumpgate are similar: How much power does the president have over the executive branch? Is it obstruction of justice if the president does it? Can the president be indicted?
As several former federal prosecutors confirmed this week, former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on Thursday was a roadmap for special counsel Robert Mueller to follow as he builds an obstruction of justice case against President Trump. The two men, friends and former colleagues, view the law in similar terms. Mueller is unlikely to believe the word of an habitual liar over that of a Boy Scout. It’s unlikely that juries will, either.
One key fact—as Comey stressed— is that Trump told Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior adviser Jared Kushner and others to leave the Oval Office so that he could be alone with Comey to tell him to stop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. This intentionality is harmful to “the newbie defense”—that Trump was new to the presidency and didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong—offered by House Speaker Paul Ryan and others. Ignorance of the law is no defense, anyway.
All of the other arguments from Trump apologists have also collapsed. According to former prosecutors, Trump’s use of “I hope” instead of “I order you” to stop the Flynn probe won’t get him off. “If you say, ‘Nice storefront you have here. Pity if something should happen to it,’ that doesn’t help you when you burn down the store,” says Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice. Neither would Comey’s “leaking” (a classic Trump diversion) or the fact that he didn’t immediately report the crime, which ignores an FBI director’s well-established obligation not to do anything to impede his own investigation.