03/15/2007 08:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Simple: Bush's ProsecutorGate = Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre"

The latest rightwing propaganda smokescreen for covering up political misdeeds is this one: Clinton fired Federal prosecutors, too. And they serve at the President's pleasure. The real historical parallel for this scandal isn't Clinton's routine action, however. It's the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre," when Nixon wanted the special prosecutor investigating GOP crimes to be fired. When the Attorney General refused and resigned on principle (remember when Attorneys General had principle?), Nixon fired his successor for refusing and finally got someone who'd do the job for him.

That was the beginning of the end for Nixon's Presidency, and rightfully so. Ethical leaders in both parties were forced to acknowledge the pattern of lawlessness underlying his behavior, and his resignation took place the following year.

That's your analogous situation, folks - not Clinton doing what every President does upon taking office. As has been well reported, every President appoints his own prosecutorial team at the start of his term. That's irrelevant to this scandal. Every new President appoints his own Attorney General and senior Justice Department staff, too. The fact that the Attorney General serves at the President's pleasure didn't make Nixon's actions any more defensible.

The question about the firing of these prosecutors is not what was done, but when it was done - in the middle of a four-year term - and, most importantly why (apparently for refusing to comply with politically-motivated interference with investigations and prosecutions).

The parallel's not exact, of course, in that Nixon was protecting a specific crime with his actions, while these actions were taken for a variety of suspicious reasons. But the irregularity is the same - the unscheduled, mid-term firing of Justice Department officials who refused to permit political tampering with the investigative process.

In other words, motives may have been different in these two cases, but the misdeed is the same.

Only the most extreme politicians in 1973 - and certainly no reputable commentators or news organizations - suggested that the fact that other Presidents replace Attorneys General or other Justice Department staff upon taking office was a defense for Nixon's actions. The Saturday Night Massacre was rightly seen as an attempt to corrupt the criminal justice system and undermine prosecutorial integrity.

And that's what we're seeing in the blossoming scandal of Gonzales, Rove - and other parties as yet unnamed.

See? It's simple, really - once you get past the guys who get paid to make clear-cut situations look fuzzy.

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