Is Kremlingate worse than Watergate? Duh. A cyber break-in orchestrated by a foreign adversary is worse than an office break-in botched by domestic dirty-tricksters.
But Kremlingate is worse in another way that’s becoming more obvious by the day. This time – in marked contrast to the early ’70s – there are virtually no Republicans willing to put aside rote partisanship and stand up for principled American values. This time, craven careerism and knee-jerk toadyism trump love of country.
Last time, some Republicans actually resigned their jobs rather than stomach Richard Nixon’s lies and abuses; others stood up and spoke out, braving the potential flak from Nixon bitter-enders. This time, the Republicans on the Hill and in Donald Trump’s employ simply gargle his sewer water and beg for more.
He’s the reverse King Midas. Everyone he touches turns to dust – with their full compliance.
It was pathetic last week, the way Mike Pence, Sean Spicer, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders debased themselves. Over and over, they were thrust forward to perpetrate the lie that James Comey was fired only because another instant toady, deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had recommended it. Pence said Comey was fired “because of the reasons outlined by the deputy AG.” Spicer said the firing was “based on the clear recommendations” of Rosenstein and boss Jeff Sessions. Whereupon Trump hung them out to dry by declaring on NBC News that “I was gonna fire regardless of recommendation.”
But Pence, Spicer, and Sanders took the whippings that are de rigueur in Trumplandia, and now they’re apparently ready for more. (Pence, of course, will hang in there just in case…you know.) And Rod Rosenstein, a longtime Justice Department public servant is staying on the job, despite being flagrantly used and abused. He supposedly has the power to appoint a special prosecutor for Kremlingate, but we haven’t heard a peep. Take a guess why.
Last time, during Watergate, the Attorney General was a stand-up Republican named Elliot Richardson; when Nixon moved to squash the investigation, Richardson refused to be complicit. So he resigned, telling Nixon in person: “I’m acting on the basis of national interest as I see it. There should be no mistaken impression.” Imagine that.
But this time, during Kremlingate, the Attorney General is Jeff Sessions. You may recall that he was supposed to have totally recused himself from Kremlingate, after he was caught lying about his own ’16 contacts with the Russians. So much for that pledge. He and Rosenstein cooked up the phony pretexts for Comey’s firing, and we will wait in vain for a congressional Republican outcry about Sessions’ ongoing participation.
Speaking of Congress:
Last time, during Watergate, the Senate Republican leader was Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania. He publicly abided Nixon’s lies for a long time, for the sake of party loyalty, but he told his staff that Nixon’s people kept trying to mislead him. (After one phone call with Nixonites H. R. Haldeman and John Ehlichman, Scott complained, “Those guys aren’t telling me the truth.”) And when Nixon finally released selected excerpts from the long-sought Oval Office tapes, Scott publicly assailed them as “deplorable, disgusting, shabby, immoral.” And after it became clear that Nixon was toast, Scott went to the White House and told Nixon it was time to go.
That was Hugh Scott. This time, the Senate Republican leader is Mitch McConnell. Nuff said.
Scott was not alone. He was buttressed by a number of party colleagues – most notably, Barry Goldwater, an iconic conservative senator and former presidential candidate. Fifteen months before Nixon resigned, Goldwater said publicly: “If it can be proved that he lied, resignation would have to be considered. It would be quick. Everything would be over, ended…Watergate is the concern of every Republican I talk to.” Is there a Republican leader today who’s willing to speak out as Goldwater did?
Last time, in the House, the most ardent Nixon defender was a guy named Charles Wiggins. As a California congressman from a very red district, he hung in as long as he could, indulging Nixon’s lies, until he finally said: “The guys who stuck by the president were really led down the garden path, weren’t they?” Is there a congressional Republican today who’s willing to echo Charles Wiggins?
And last time, in the Senate, there was a guy named Lowell Weicker. As a Republican member of the Senate Watergate Committee, he got fed up with Nixon’s chicanery and one day he unloaded on the president of his own party:
“Let me make it clear. Republicans do not cover up. Republicans do not go ahead and threaten. Republicans do not go ahead and commit illegal acts. And God knows Republicans don’t view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed – but rather, I can assure you, that this Republican, and those that I serve with, look upon every American as human beings to be loved and wanted.”
That was last time. Who among the Republicans will stand up for America this time?