It’s now over but the shouting. It began the moment charges moved from unnamed sources in the New York Times and the Washington Post to the desk of Robert Mueller III, the former Director of the FBI, now the special counsel. It began the moment a counterintelligence investigation became a criminal matter. It accelerated further once a “person of interest” was identified by the FBI, with parlor betting believing that it’s Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of the president.
The end began when the adults took over the investigation and now the only thing that remains are dates and times of the final resignation.
White House staff members will soon lawyer up and it’s only a matter of time before more beans are spilled because rats rarely climb onto a sinking ship. As my one friend in law enforcement once said, “nothing makes a white-collar suspect break into a sweat like the words ‘you have the right to remain silent.’”
It accelerated into high speed after the Trump White House experienced a series of self-inflicted body blows like none other seen in any modern presidency. Last Monday started with former Acting Attorney General Yates stating that she could not understand why the White House was unwilling to act on her concerns about General Michael Flynn’s questionable behavior. On next day, James Comey was fired as the head of the FBI, for the unbelievable rationale of his treatment of Hillary Clinton’s emails during the end stage of the presidential election. Then the president himself pulled the rug out from his entire senior staff, including the vice president, when he later said that he had planned to get rid of Comey all along and that the Rod Rosenstein memo was nothing more than a pretext. Then he followed it up with a threat, suggesting that his meeting with Comey was somehow “taped” and he should watch what he says. Then he chose to blithely share highly classified data surrounding ISIS with the Russians (that we now know came from Israeli sources) and after his staff was trotted out to defend his action, Trump once again undercut them by saying that sharing the intelligence was his prerogative as president. Just as quickly, the former FBI director pushed back.
When it became known that fired FBI director took copious notes, friends of Comey stated that the president tried to elicit his loyalty on several occasions and hoped that the disgraced General Flynn would not be prosecuted. Rosenstein, a career Justice Department official, then moved forward to select a special counsel. In this crazy period, there are details that I have left out—there is there is just so much crazy stuff out there.
Just as Nixon’s behavior became his own worst enemy, Trump’s behavior of early hour tweeting has served to be his undoing.
The new special counsel, Robert Mueller III, is a different sort of breed. He is not like Ken Starr, who authorized the bodice-ripping Starr Report near 20 years ago in 1998, which cleared Bill Clinton of everything, but for lying about the act of consensual sex with an intern. It was Mueller, who alongside then-acting Attorney General James Comey, who stood down the Bush White House in 2004 over a reauthorizing warrantless wiretapping program. He was prepared to walk away from the FBI directorship because of principle and protest.
Trump’s downfall is entirely Shakespearian and it is an opera that begs to be written. It was Trump, who flirted with a White House run for nearly two decades, who is now watching it all melt away, even if he remains in deep denial. Those who cheered the extremist rhetoric of Candidate Trump have found that President Trump has flip-flopped on many major topics after he took office. Jared Kushner, the husband of Trump’s beloved daughter, might find himself in legal hot water now that the FBI is rumored to have set their sights on his activities with the Russians. Two Republican Congressmen have already begun to duel for the right to claim that they were the first Republican to call for impeachment, something that Pete McCloskey, then a Republican Congressman from San Mateo, could claim when he started to call for the removal of Richard Nixon two generations ago.
They say that the White House is a ship that leaks from the top, but this current White House is leaking like a sieve. Stories published in The New York Times or The Washington Post have been confirmed by large numbers of unnamed White House sources, far more than what took place in Watergate. However, what is most apparent is that after only several months of this administration, the nation is simply too exhausted and policymakers are wondering what shoe will drop next. This is not how superpowers are supposed to behave.
However, the most surprised guy in the room has got to be Vice President Pence, who now must walk a very fine line so that he is not ensnared in whatever cover-up continues to build. Last year, he went from a sitting Indiana governor, who was in a very tough reelection bid, to a vice president who is only months away from becoming the 46th President of the United States.
Recently I found myself in Orange County on Highway 91 heading into Los Angeles and I saw a sign that the Richard Nixon Birthplace and Museum was located near the next exit. I had some extra time, so I followed the signs and soon enough, I was in the parking lot of the museum of the 37th president. As I toured the well-appointed grounds and walked to the final resting place of Nixon and his wife Pat, buried a stone’s throw from his birthplace, I was struck by the 13-minute video that detailed his life. It recalled his hardscrabble childhood and the death of his siblings before it talked about his meteoric political rise, when he became Ike’s vice president before the age of 40. The film spent some time detailing his years in the wilderness before emerging to win the 1968 election in a squeaker and 1972 in a landslide. When they turned to Watergate and the resignation speech, it was glossed over―as if the events took place in a vacuum or showed up unannounced at the Oval Office door.
People forget that it was Nixon’s personality, his penchant for secrecy, his desire to strike out at enemies perceived as well as real, and his paranoia about others that led to his downfall. It was Nixon’s personality that drove Watergate and it was Nixon’s behavior which led to his downfall.
I’m not sure if they will ever build a Trump Presidential Library but perhaps one should be built to serve as a cautionary tale. Just as Nixon’s behavior became his own worst enemy, Trump’s behavior of early hour tweeting has served to be his undoing. It has been Trump—and Trump alone―who has put this nation on course for its first constitutional crisis since the days of Watergate. Like I have said in the past, if somebody would have taken away the president’s cell phone or cancelled his Twitter account, 90% of his problems would have simply vanished.
Somewhere out there, the surviving families of past Presidents like Millard Fillmore, Warren Harding, Franklin Pierce, or James Buchanan can breathe easily because their legacy will no longer loiter among the dregs of presidential history—Donald J. Trump will have it all to himself.