It was a cool October evening in 1973 when then-President Richard Nixon telephoned US Attorney General Elliot Richardson with a simple request: dismiss Archibald Cox from his role as Special Prosecutor in charge of the Watergate Investigation. The President wanted to eliminate Cox after he had issued a subpoena for taped conversations from the Oval Office, which Nixon ignored.
Richardson, realizing the weight of the request, promptly refused and resigned in protest instead. Earlier that year the Attorney General had sworn to Congress that he would only fire Cox for cause.The President then contacted Richardson's Deputy, William Ruckelshaus, and again ordered Cox to be terminated. Ruckelshaus followed his boss in resigning. Finally, Nixon summoned Solicitor General Robert Bork to the White House, and had him promptly sworn in as acting Attorney General. In his first official act, Bork wrote a formal letter of dismissal to Cox.
The event came to be known as the "Saturday Night Massacre" and ultimately cost Tricky Dick public support. In response, Congress began the procedure to remove him. The rest, despite being history, is readily being ignored by our current president.
The Mueller Investigation into Russia's meddiling in the 2016 election has reached new levels. Earlier this week, the FBI raided longtime Trump ally and lawyer Michael Cohen's office and hotel suite, seizing his computers, phones, and all paper documents. This is the closest home hitting revelation to the Trump Team thus far. It is still unclear what specifically they were seeking, but this should come to light in the following weeks as the evidence is processed.
What is clear however is that the raid shook Trump to his core. Despite being informed that Trump is a "subject" and not a "target" of the investigation, the President has looked into the legalities of firing the Special Prosecutor. And, given that he considered firing Mueller once last June and again in December, zero hour seems rapidly approaching.
He's Got The Power
At Tuesday's briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President "certainly believes he has the power" to dismiss Mueller and that he's consulted "a number of individuals in the legal community."
The actual legality of firing Mueller is tricky. Strictly examing legal code, it appears Attorney General Jeff Sessions is the only one who can fire the special prosecutor.
"Special Counsel may be disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General."
But Sessions recussed himself from any Russian Investigation interference back in the early days of the Trump Administration, handing the power to his deputy Rod Rosenstein. This means that Trump would most likely have to ask Rosenstein to remove Mueller, which he's highly unlikely to do.
Instead, Trump is seriously weighing replacing the Deputy AG with someone more inclined to see things his way.
Trump v Nixon
Despite the eerie similarities between the two men, their are some striking divergences.
Nixon spent the first four years of his presidency without scrutiny, even winning a massive landslide reelection in 1972. Trump on the other hand, has had the Russia cloud hanging over his head from almost day one. Likewise, before Watergate, Nixon was highly popular, with an approval rating peaking at 68.5% in the months leading up to the scandal. Trump however, has struggled to maintain a consistent 55% with his most current aggregate holding him at 53.3%.
However Nixon, like Trump, burned through several aides, cabinet members, and other high ranking administration officials before and during their respective scandals. Nixon did this to keep put distance between himself and Watergate. With Trump, while difficult to accurately infer, appears to be doing it to draw attention from the accelerating investigation.
Upping The Ante
In the coming weeks, expect Trump to make a move to fire someone, whether Rosenstein, Mueller, or even Jeff Sessions. If this happens, it will most likely lead to the same outcome as Nixon: impeachment proceedings.
The approaching midterm elections complicate things, as Democrats are now in the best position to retake the House since at least 2006, meaning they would have total control in the lower chamber to initiate impeachment, even if it ends up failing in the Senate.
The immediate concern for Trump is the bipartisan effort to quickly pass legislation protecting Mueller from the President. If that bill lands on his desk, Trump is in an even more awkward position than he already is.
This article was last updated 4/23/2018.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any individual or entity affiliated with the Rockefeller Review. Assumptions are made for the purpose of qualitative analysis of current geopolitical events. These views are subject to change as the situation(s) described above evolve.
© 2018 Drew Jeffers
Brad on April 13, 2018:
The one difference that you missed was that there was a crime in the Nixon case. There is no crime in the Trump case, and therefore the Mueller investigation and Mueller should have never been appointed.
Collusion is not a crime under the USC.
Mueller and Rosenstein have too many conflicts of interest to even be involved in an investigation.
Rosenstein with the FISA, and Mueller with Comey.
There is no comparison with Nixon here at all.
We still don't know how the FBI got FISA warrants to spy on Trump when Carter Page was spied on for 1 year, and yet he is a free man, without even a single indictment. Where is the probable cause. Carter Page was a Trojan horse just to get to spy on Trump. They didn't have probable cause because of Carter Page, they had nothing. But they were using Carter Page to try and get probable cause. They got nothing out of it.
The same thing is true by going after Trump's personal attorney. Where is the probable cause, they want to try and get some from the information they seized.
This turns the 4th amendment protection on its head.
Instead of providing probable, they get a warrant so that they may be able to get some information that will be considered probable cause.
You think this is the function of the DOJ and FBI.
When they did nothing with all the evidence that they had on Hillary?
Sharlee on April 12, 2018:
Just my opinion, It seems that the media as well as many that represent us in Washington have been predicting President Trump will or is thinking about firing Mueller. So, far facts have shown the president and the administration has cooperated fully with any request from Mueller. As of today he has not fired Mueller. Would it be wiser to wait and see if he actually fires him? If he fires him, there will be plenty of time to for some to celebrate, and feel they now can proceed with some form of punishment to rain down on the President.
However, what if? What if he does not fire him, and there is no evidence of wrong doing on the part of the President? I just a have to ask, was it fair to speculate at the expense of a Presidents reputation?
Have we become a society that that can condemn, and punish before a crime is committed? What makes me sad, most likely President Trump will not fire Mueller, but there will be apologies for all the bias predictions that have been on going for months. They will move on to another "If come"....