Trump Preparing His Own Saturday Night Massacre
It was a cool October evening in 1973 when then-President Richard Nixon telephoned US Attorney General Elliot Richardson with a simple request: dismiss Archibald Cox from his role as Special Prosecutor in charge of the Watergate Investigation. The President wanted to eliminate Cox after he had issued a subpoena for taped conversations from the Oval Office, which Nixon ignored.
Richardson, realizing the weight of the request, promptly refused and resigned in protest instead. Earlier that year the Attorney General had sworn to Congress that he would only fire Cox for cause.The President then contacted Richardson's Deputy, William Ruckelshaus, and again ordered Cox to be terminated. Ruckelshaus followed his boss in resigning. Finally, Nixon summoned Solicitor General Robert Bork to the White House, and had him promptly sworn in as acting Attorney General. In his first official act, Bork wrote a formal letter of dismissal to Cox.
The event came to be known as the "Saturday Night Massacre" and ultimately cost Tricky Dick public support. In response, Congress began the procedure to remove him. The rest, despite being history, is readily being ignored by our current president.
The Mueller Investigation into Russia's meddiling in the 2016 election has reached new levels. Earlier this week, the FBI raided longtime Trump ally and lawyer Michael Cohen's office and hotel suite, seizing his computers, phones, and all paper documents. This is the closest home hitting revelation to the Trump Team thus far. It is still unclear what specifically they were seeking, but this should come to light in the following weeks as the evidence is processed.
What is clear however is that the raid shook Trump to his core. Despite being informed that Trump is a "subject" and not a "target" of the investigation, the President has looked into the legalities of firing the Special Prosecutor. And, given that he considered firing Mueller once last June and again in December, zero hour seems rapidly approaching.
He's Got The Power
At Tuesday's briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President "certainly believes he has the power" to dismiss Mueller and that he's consulted "a number of individuals in the legal community."
The actual legality of firing Mueller is tricky. Strictly examing legal code, it appears Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the only one who can fire the special prosecutor.
"Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General."
But Sessions recussed himself from any Russian Investigation interference back in the early days of the Trump Administration, handing the power to his deputy Rod Rosenstein. This means that Trump would most likely have to ask Rosenstein to remove Mueller, which he's highly unlikely to do.
Instead, Trump is seriously weighing replacing the Deputy AG with someone more inclined to see things his way.
Trump v Nixon
Despite the eerie similarities between the two men, their are some striking divergences.
Nixon spent the first four years of his presidency without scrutiny, even winning a massive landslide reelection in 1972. Trump on the other hand, has had the Russia cloud hanging over his head from almost day one. Likewise, before Watergate, Nixon was highly popular, with an approval rating peaking at 68.5% in the months leading up to the scandal. Trump however, has struggled to maintain a consistent 55% with his most current aggregate holding him at 53.3%.
However Nixon, like Trump, burned through several aides, cabinet members, and other high ranking administration officials before and during their respective scandals. Nixon did this to keep put distance between himself and Watergate. With Trump, while difficult to accurately infer, appears to be doing it to draw attention from the accelerating investigation.
Upping The Ante
In the coming weeks, expect Trump to make a move to fire someone, whether Rosenstein, Mueller, or even Jeff Sessions. If this happens, it will most likely lead to the same outcome as Nixon: impeachment proceedings.
The approaching midterm elections complicate things, as Democrats are now in the best position to retake the House since at least 2006, meaning they would have total control in the lower chamber to initiate impeachment, even if it ends up failing in the Senate.
The immediate concern for Trump is the bipartisan effort to quickly pass legislation protecting Mueller from the President. If that bill lands on his desk, Trump is in an even more awkward position than he already is.
This article was last updated 4/23/2018.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any individual or entity affiliated with the Rockefeller Review. Assumptions are made for the purpose of qualitative analysis of current geopolitical events. These views are subject to change as the situation(s) described above evolve.
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© 2018 Drew Jeffers