Now that Der Leader has deposed the lead investigator of Der Leader — sabotaging the rule of law, the kind of thing that typically happens in banana republics — I am surprised that anyone could possibly be surprised. Because it was obvious all last year that if this malevolent demagogue got anywhere close to power, he would do precisely what he has now done.
Those of us who lived through Watergate know what’s going on. Just as Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox because he felt the special prosecutor breathing down his neck, Donald Trump has sacked James Comey because he feared that the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe was encroaching on his tinpot throne.
Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre triggered the impeachment proceedings that ultimately compelled Nixon to quit. Can the Tuesday Night Massacre do the same? We should be so lucky.
The problem, of course, is that today’s Trump-corrupted Republicans are conditioned to put party over country. But now, after only 114 days of incompetent authoritarian chaos, they’re faced with an existential choice, a fundamental gut check:
Are they American patriots, willing to act out of sincere concern for the future of this increasingly fragile democracy? Or have they been reduced to hapless lickspittles — abetting Trump’s predictable assaults on our enduring American values?
Are they truly willing to sit back and watch Trump put the FBI under his heel? Have they even noticed that Trump has now fired the FBI director who was investigating him, the acting Attorney General who had the goods on Michael Flynn, and the U.S. attorney in New York City who had jurisdiction over Trump’s Manhattan-based business dealings?
So far — and this is no surprise — the number of perturbed Republicans can be counted on one hand. A few senators have expressed “disappointment.” They say they are “troubled.” Richard Burr, who’s chairing the Senate Intelligence Committee probe into the Trump-Russia connection, and who himself has been accused of slow-walking the investigation, pursed his lips last night: “I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Jim Comey’s termination. [It] further confuses an already difficult investigation by our committee,” because Comey had been “forthcoming with information.”
The rest of the Republicans are like the characters in T. S. Eliot’s famous poem: “We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw.”
If only they could muster a scintilla of the justifable outrage tweeted by conservative columnist Bret Stephens (“Trump puts US on moral par with Putin’s Russia. Never in history has a president slandered his country like this”), if only they could grasp the big picture, as articulated by leading constitutional expert Laurence Tribe (“At stake is the ability of our Constitution to overcome the ambitions of unprincipled men”), then perhaps this so-called president can be held accountable.
Only the dumb, numb, and naive can possibly believe that Comey was fired for Trump’s stated reasons. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton probe — announcing in July that she was legally in the clear, announcing in a letter that he was reopening the probe on the eve of the election — has rightfully been criticized, especially by Democrats. But Trump had no problem ballyhooing that Comey letter last October, when it aided his campaign. Yesterday, Trump used Comey’s mistakes as a fig leaf that failed to mask his true intent.
Here’s the sick puppy in action: “He had grown enraged by the Russia investigation, two advisers said, frustrated by his inability to control the mushrooming narrative around Russia. He repeatedly asked aides why the Russia investigation wouldn’t disappear … He would sometimes scream at television clips about the probe, one adviser said.”
So Trump’s true intent was obvious. He thirsted to nix the guy whose burgeoning Russia probe was driving him nuts. Lest we forget (and Trump never forgets), here’s what Comey publicly confirmed for the first time, at a House hearing in March: “The FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government [which] wanted to hurt our democracy — hurt her, help him.”
We’ve reached a pivotal moment in our history. Will this pitiable excuse for a president be permitted to reign unchecked, on behalf of his 36 percent share of the electorate? Will Senate Republicans actually knuckle under and confirm, as Comey’s replacement, a Trump toady tasked with squashing the Russia investigation? Or will our so-called leaders heed the landslide majority of Americans — 65 percent, in a national poll two months ago — who want a nonpartisan special prosecutor?
If this is still a functional democracy, Trump is in deeper trouble than he was before. If checks and balances are still a thing, Trump has thrown gasoline on his own fire. But accountability won’t happen unless the Republicans on Capitol Hill react as their forebears did in October ’73, when Nixon fired Cox. Back then, Republicans weren’t merely “troubled.” House Republicans warned Nixon that they would not “go to the wall” to prevent impeachment proceedings. And a key Republican senator declared: “The office of the President does not carry with it a license to destroy justice in America.”
And here’s Archibald Cox himself, his words echoing down the decades: “Whether we shall continue to be a government of laws and not men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people to decide.”