Trump’s attack on intelligence community smacks of Nixon
WASHINGTON – A telling measure of President Donald Trump’s determination to escape from the clutches of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is his bold revocation of the security clearance of John Brennan, the former CIA director with a lifetime of knowledge and understanding of the underworld of cyber warfare.
Trump’s act was naked retribution against an American citizen who dared to criticize him, and it is an indication of more of the same to come against other high intelligence community veterans who have vouched for the validity of allegations that clandestine operatives of the Russian government interfered with the 2016 U.S. elections.
Revoking Brennan’s clearance is part and parcel of Trump’s overt war on the Justice Department and the FBI. It is an obvious attempt to discredit both agencies and Mueller in particular, as evidence mounts that Trump and/or people close to him may have conspired with the Russians before and after the election.
Mueller has delayed issuing a subpoena for Trump’s testimony as the president’s lawyers play a stalling game that could result in just such a subpoena. The lawyers suggest they might appeal as far as to the Supreme Court to quash a subpoena.
Trump’s defensive assault on Mueller is not unlike President Richard Nixon’s strategy of 44 years ago against the Watergate scandal that brought his own resignation in disgrace. Then Nixon tried to deter his own Justice Department’s inquiry into that fiasco by ordering the firing of then Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, who sought disclosure of infamous White House tapes that eventually sealed Nixon’s political demise.
The tapes included a so-called “smoking gun” in which Nixon was heard discussing a possible bribe of the Watergate break-in operatives to buy their silence. Attorney General Elliot Richardson, in what was dubbed “the Saturday Night Massacre,” resigned rather than fire Cox, and so did Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.
The decision to do the deed then passed to the No. 3 man at Justice, Solicitor General Robert Bork, who dutifully carried out the political execution. Bork subsequently went on to further humiliation when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the Supreme Court but was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee then chaired by Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
The stage thus appears set for a possible rerun of the same drama in Trump’s case, except that his Republican Party now holds majorities in both the House of Representatives, where any impeachment effort must start, and the Senate, which votes to convict or acquit.
The latter body is poised to confirm another Republican judge, Brett Kavanaugh, to fill the vacancy caused by the death caused by the death of retiring Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy.
The Trump adminstration obviously hopes to achieve that confirmation before the November midterm elections, in which the Democrats, now two votes shy of a majority in the Senate, could jeopardize that calculation. They are poised to challenge Kavanaugh on grounds of previous writings arguing that a sitting president cannot be subpoenaed.
So again the congressional midterms have become a critical battleground for or against the continuation of the Trump presidency, or at least its effectiveness in the legislative wars that will lie ahead in the second half of his first Oval Office term.
Strong efforts to boost Democratic voter registration and turnout have raised the stakes on both sides, as Trump has resumed a heavy campaign scheme in states and congressional districts where he polled well in 2016. The question is whether the bloom is still on his charismatic personal appeal, or whether the chaotic and unpredictable nature of it will produce a game-changing voter pushback at this critical point in Trump’s presidency.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.