MAY 13, 2017 12:00 PM EDT
Unyielding dishonesty and belligerence have landed Trump one investigation away from impeachment
We’ve reached a magical time in the great story unfolding before us, the time when everybody knows that Trump is guilty, but the verdict is not yet in. I remember exactly how it happened in the Watergate story, when everybody knew Nixon was guilty of ordering the break-in at the DNC headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex and supervised the cover-up, but evidence sufficient to prove his guilt wasn’t yet available. Guilty men lie, and lie repeatedly. Their early lies beget later lies; their little lies beget bigger lies; their implausible lies beget extraordinary lies; they tell more and more outrageous lies as their day of reckoning closes in. It was true of Nixon and now it’s true of Trump. The lies multiply, they become ever more far-fetched, and finally the day arrives when lying doesn’t work anymore. We’re there with Trump. He lies practically every time he takes a breath, but his lies aren’t working anymore. He’s choking from lack of oxygen. He’s a dead man lying.
There are amazing similarities in the way the two scandals unfolded. Watergate began with the break-in and wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in an attempt to gather intelligence on the McGovern campaign for president. Russiagate began with the hacking of the Democratic National Committee server in an attempt to gather intelligence on the Clinton campaign for president. The object of the break-ins, both physical and cyber, was to disrupt the Democratic Party and gain advantage for the Republican candidate in the election campaign. Both scandals began to unravel fairly quickly. The second time the Nixon plumbers broke into the Watergate they were discovered and the administration’s crimes began to be uncovered. The Russian hacking of the DNC was discovered when Wikileaks published Clinton’s emails and the Trump campaign began using the product of this crime to their advantage.
Then came the step-by-step uncovering of the facts behind the break-ins. In the Watergate case, it involved people on the Nixon re-election committee planning and executing the break-in and cover-up. In the Trump-Russia case, it involves Trump’s people using the ill-gotten information hacked by Russians against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. It took months and then years to reveal the crimes and the cover-up of Watergate. One Nixon campaign worker after another was turned and subsequently cooperated with the Watergate investigation. John Mitchell, the former attorney general turned Nixon campaign chairman, was implicated. Evidence was revealed of campaign money being laundered and used to pay the Watergate burglars to carry out the wiretapping of the Democrats, and of more money used to buy their silence. Then the investigation reached into the Nixon administration and the Nixon White House itself, and people working directly for Nixon were implicated in the crime and cover-up. In order to continue the cover-up, Nixon had to begin firing his own people. He fired John Dean. He fired John Erlichman and H.R. Haldeman. He fired Chuck Colson. Eventually, the man under investigation fired the man investigating him. He fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox in a bald-faced attempt to bring an end to the Watergate investigation.
In the Russiagate case, one Trump campaign worker after another has been revealed to have had contacts with the Russians running the attacks on the Democratic party. There was Roger Stone. There was Carter Page. There was Paul Manafort. As their Russia contacts were revealed, each of them was fired — Stone, Page, Manafort. Then the investigation reached into the Trump White House. First, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was found to have had multiple contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Then it was revealed that he had discussed relaxing the Obama administration’s Russian sanctions with Kislyak. Flynn was fired. Then Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General who discovered Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, thought wrongly that the White House didn’t know about them and warned the White House counsel about Flynn being compromised by the Russians. Yates was fired.
On Jan. 27, the day after Yates first warned the White House about Flynn, Trump summoned FBI Director James Comey to the White House for dinner and tried to get him to shut down the investigation of Trump’s Russia connections by asking him to pledge “loyalty” to the president. Three weeks later to the day, Comey went before the House Intelligence Committee and announced that Trump, his campaign and transition team had been under criminal and counterintelligence investigation for more than nine months. Trump began complaining in tweets and interviews that the “Russia thing” was a “hoax” and “fake news.” When his transparent attempt to quash the investigation with public bullying didn’t work, Trump began complaining to aides about Comey and asking what could be done about him. This week, the man under investigation once again fired the man investigating him. Trump generated an entirely false story and used it to justify firing Comey. Tump lied about why he fired Comey, and almost immediately admitted firing him because he wanted the Russiagate investigation shut down, and Comey wouldn’t do it.
At the same point in the Watergate scandal everyone knew an impeachable offense had been committed. Everyone knew that the man under investigation firing the man investigating him is prima facie obstruction of justice. But even in the face of his outrageous flouting of the law and the Constitution, the political will to impeach Nixon wasn’t there. What was needed was evidence of the underlying crimes in Watergate. Who ordered the break-in? Who orchestrated the cover-up? That investigation became available when it was revealed that Nixon had taped every conversation he had had in the Oval Office. Nixon fought to keep the tapes from becoming evidence all the way to the Supreme Court. When he lost, the tapes were turned over and conversations establishing Nixon’s guilt were found, and articles of impeachment were drawn up by the House of Representatives.
The most serious of those articles was obstruction of justice, because obstruction of justice isn’t merely a crime in the U.S. Code, it is a crime against the Constitution itself. Article II recommended by the congress read in part that Nixon had “repeatedly engaged in conduct violating the constitutional rights of citizens, impairing the due and proper administration of justice and the conduct of lawful inquiries, or contravening the laws governing agencies of the executive branch and the purposes of these agencies.” The articles of impeachment were voted by the Judiciary Committee onto the House floor. Before a vote to impeach could be taken by the House of Representatives, Senators Barry Goldwater and Hugh Scott and Representative John Rhodes went to the White House and informed Nixon he would be impeached by the House and convicted by trial in the Senate, and Nixon agreed to resign in lieu of impeachment in return for a promise that he would be pardoned for his crimes. Nixon was gone and Watergate was over.
Now we are at the same point in the Trump-Russia investigation. Everyone knows that Trump is guilty. Everyone knows he tried to get Comey to shut down his investigation, and when he failed, he enlisted the vice president, the attorney general and the deputy attorney general in firing the FBI director, and then Trump and his aides began lying about the motivation for the dismissal.
Everyone knows why Trump fired Comey. Everyone knows they all lied about it. Everyone knows that this is obstruction of justice. Everyone knows that this is an impeachable offense. And yet, just as it was after Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the political will isn’t yet there to impeach the president. Once again what is needed to reach that point is evidence of the underlying crimes. This is the very evidence Trump has been attempting to suppress by declaring the whole “Russia thing” a “hoax” and “fake news.” The underlying evidence is what Trump tried to suppress when he fired FBI Director Comey. The FBI reportedly now has more than 100 agents in at least three field offices working on the Trump-Russia investigation. There were reports this week that the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department has been enlisted in the investigation and is looking into Trump’s business affairs and Russian money paid to members of Trump’s campaign.
There were reports this week that subpoenas have been issued by grand juries sitting in Northern Virginia and the Eastern District of New York. There were also reports that sealed indictments are being held by a Federal Judge in Northern Virginia. Evidence of the underlying crimes is out there, and it’s not that far away. There is a noose around Trump’s neck and it is tightening and he knows it and he’s panicking and he’s trying to do the thing that has worked for him all of his life: he’s trying to lie his way out of it. But this time, Donald Trump is a dead man lying.