It’s like comparing World War II to an exhibition baseball game. Apples and oranges don’t do justice to how different these two situations are.
The ink was not yet dry on President Donald Trump’s statement announcing the dismissal of when political opponents began drawing comparisons to President Richard Nixon’s infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”
Comparisons between Nixon and Trump are already numerous, from commentators ranging from Carl Bernstein to Stephen Colbert. The Late Show has even joked that Trump receives social-media counseling from Nixon’s ghost. But Nixon came from a different time and governed a very different America. Therefore, until the Watergate scandal really became critical in early 1973, Nixon’s presidency went very differently from the way Donald Trump’s has so far, reflecting key differences between that time and this one.
With the Watergate investigation closing in on him, Nixon in October 1973 fired his attorney general and deputy attorney general before he found an official willing to ax the special prosecutor who was investigating the Democratic Party headquarters break-in.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N-Y.) argued that is analogous to Trump’s dismissal of Obama administration holdover Yates for ordering Justice Department lawyers not to defend the president’s executive order freezing the refugee program and travel from seven terrorism-compromised countries.
“We had a Monday night massacre,” he declared. “James Comey, a person of great integrity who follows the law, was fired.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) drew the same conclusion, confirming that she voted against the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to be the attorney general. She praised Comey arguing that it took guts.
“That statement took a steel spine to stand up and say, ‘no,’” she said. “It took the courage of [Nixon Attorney General] Elliot Richardson and [Nixon Deputy Attorney General] William Ruckelshaus to stand up to President Nixon. That is what an FBI director must be willing and able to do.”
But legal experts noted Tuesday that Nixon was trying to obstruct a criminal investigation in which he was implicated, while Trump simply removed an insubordinate political appointee from the previous administration.
“There’s no comparison at all,” said Peter Flaherty, president of the National Legal and Policy Center. “This Justice official was insubordinate and should have been fired.”
Andrew McCarthy, who served as lead prosecutor on several high-profile terrorism cases in Manhattan in the 1990s, agreed. “To my mind, he should have been escorted out of the building,” he said.
“It’s like comparing World War II to an exhibition baseball game,” he said. “Apples and oranges don’t do justice to how different these two situations are.”
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said Comey acted for clearly personal and political reasons.
“Trump’s move was an anti-corruption move,” he said. “It’s the exact opposite of what Nixon did … This is exactly what we need more of.”
Flaherty said former President Obama almost certainly would have taken the same action against a holdover from his predecessor’s administration. And the holdover official likely would have been “vilified,” not praised in the media, he said.
“It underscores the problem, to me, just how much trouble the media is having covering President Trump,” he said.
A man who played a role in Nixon’s downfall, Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, also threw cold water on the “Saturday Night Massacre” storyline.
“There’s a big difference because the ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ was really about firing the attorney general when Nixon was the target of an investigation and was actively obstructing justice,” he told “CNN Tonight” on Wednesday. “The president is within his rights here to fire the FBI director, that he has that ability.”
For Democrats hoping for fissures between Trump and the GOP majority in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) stomped out that bit of wishful thinking.
“What is happening is something that we support, which is, we need to pause and we need to make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff so that we can guarantee the safety and security of our country,” he told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference on Tuesday. “That is what this does. We want this goal to be achieved.”
A letter obtained by NBC News from Trump to Comey states the president had been advised by administration officials to remove the FBI head.
“I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated and removed from office, effective immediately,” Trump told Comey.
“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
“It is essential that we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.”
Full text of AG Jeff Sessions recommendation to fire FBI head James Comey and President Trump’s letter firing him pic.twitter.com/zyMxQGtUkE
In a memorandum written by newly confirmed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, numerous reasons are given for Comey’s dismissal.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said he’s seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, accusing Democrats of pushing a “huge myth.”
Paul said Democrats will now clamor for a special prosecutor to look into the matter following the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“I don’t think there have been any facts presented that anybody broke the law. … I don’t think there’s any evidence that anybody broke the law,” he said on “Fox & Friends” today.
Paul said he has not even heard an “accusation” on what crime Democrats believe may have been committed.
“[Democrats] were for getting rid of Comey too, but now they’re gonna say it’s all about this Russia investigation, which hasn’t produced one iota of evidence,” said Paul.
He said Comey’s firing “could not happen soon enough,” calling out Democrats for criticizing the move despite previously declaring they had lost faith in Comey after his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
Which brings us to the most important underlying reason for the dismissal…
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