Originally Published: May 23, 2017 6:01 a.m.
Forgive my frequent references to Richard Nixon. It’s just eerie how his impeachable behavior is being replicated by the current con man. As Yogi Berra reputedly said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
For instance: When Nixon decided to thwart the FBI’s probe of Watergate, he farmed out the job to his top henchman, H.R. Haldeman. On June 23, 1972 — forever memorialized on an Oval Office tape — Nixon decreed that the CIA should tell the FBI to lay off. He told Haldeman to set up a CIA meeting, and he said: “They should call the FBI in and say that ‘We wish for the country, don’t go any further into this case, period.’”
That was obstruction of justice. The only difference today is that Donald Trump didn’t farm out his obstruction job to anybody. He did it all by himself. In accordance with his motto, as articulated during his 2016 Republican convention speech: “I alone.”
During a meeting on Feb. 14 — according to James Comey’s contemporaneous memo — Trump ordered Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions to leave the room so that he could speak to the FBI director alone. As Comey later wrote, in a memo shared with associates at the time, Trump asked Comey to drop the FBI probe of paid Russian propagandist Michael Flynn: “I hope you can see your way clear of letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
After this bombshell exploded, the Trump team predictably insisted that the memo wasn’t “truthful or accurate.” Decide for yourself who to believe: Comey (who has been writing detailed contemporaneous memos for years), or the sociopathic liar who apparently cleared the room because he didn’t want any witnesses.
If you believe Comey — whose memo will inevitably go public — then you’ll surely be interested in 18 U.S. Code Section 1505, which deals with “Obstruction of proceeding before departments, agencies, and committees.”
The key passage:
“Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter of communication, influences, obstructs, impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States” is guilty of obstructing justice. (Emphasis mine.)
After the Comey memo hit, virtually all the Republicans went AWOL. Fox News was so devoid of Trump defenders that it felt compelled to ignore the story entirely — opting instead to run giant headlines about the Clinton Foundation (I kid you not) and the breathtaking news that Tim Allen’s TV show had been cancelled.
Perhaps the Republicans are beginning to realize that they’ve lashed themselves to a sinking ship. One Republican lawmaker privately told a CNN reporter on Tuesday night that the reaction among his colleagues to the Comey news is “Wide-eyed and WTF.”
Jimmy Gurulé, a Notre Dame law professor, former assistant attorney general under George H.W. Bush, and an ex-Treasury undersecretary for enforcement under George W. Bush, says, “If the [Comey] allegations are true, President Trump has committed a serious federal crime.” Myra Adams, a McCain campaign aide in ‘08 and a Bush aide in ‘04, says, “Grounds for impeachment are defined by whatever the political market will bear. At this writing, one wonders just how much more the political market will bear after only four months of President Trump, and I say this after voting for him!”
And commentator David Gergen, who advised three Republican presidents (including Nixon), connected the dots on CNN, saying, “I think we’re in impeachment territory now for the first time ... It looks like [Trump] was trying to impede the investigation. He was using his power to do that, and when James Comey didn’t go along with him, when he wasn’t his boy, he fired him.”
The GOP’s current fig-leaf defense is basically, “We don’t yet know if this Comey memo is real.” Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is threatening to subpoena it. (Chaffetz, in his “request” letter to the FBI: “If true, these memoranda raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede the investigation.”) But the big question is what the Republicans will do if or when they actually see the memo. Will they finally stand up for America and fulfill the oath they took to defend it?
“This is no longer about Trump. We know what he is,” said former Bush speechwriter David Frum. “It’s about Congress and specifically Republicans in Congress. Who are they?”
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.