Many are comparing Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey to President Richard Nixon’s 1973 “Saturday Night Massacre” — the firing of a special Watergate prosecutor that helped bring about Nixon’s downfall.
Historians and pundits sometimes use the word Nixonian to describe to ruthless, self-protective maneuvers undertaken by a president to serve his own interests. But Richard Nixon’s presidential library noted Tuesday that in one way, Trump’s firing of Comey was beyond Nixonian.
Others, though, were perfectly fine with Nixon comparisons.
Nixon’s firing of Cox staggered Cox’s investigation of Nixon operatives breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate office complex. The firing helped turn the public tide against Nixon, leading to his resignation.
Trump critics alleged that he fired Comey because the FBI is investigating links between his allies and Russia, though the Trump Administration said Comey was fired for mishandling the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump’s team released letters from the Justice Department recommending that Comey be fired because he “usurped” the power of the DOJ to decide whether to charge Clinton. (Comey said at a July 5 news conference that Clinton was “extremely careless” in her handling of classified information but should not be criminally charged.)
But Trump has known about Comey’s decision to close the Clinton email investigation for 10 months, so why fire him now? And how does that gel with Trump’s campaign vow — since abandoned — that he would jail Clinton?
“Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you,” Trump told Fox Business in an interview that aired on March 12. “If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial.”
But Axelrod doubted Comey’s handling of Clinton was the real reason Trump dropped him.
“Can we honestly believe this is why POTUS fired him?” Axelrod tweeted.
As many noted — including some Republican supporters of the president — he fired Comey just two months after Comey announced that the FBI is investigating possible links between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
One key difference between the Nixon and Trump firings: Justice Department leaders stood up to Nixon, while the current Justice Department leaders gave Trump ammunition to fire Comey.
The “Saturday Night Massacre” included the exits of Attorney General Elliot L. Richardson and his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, who quit in protest rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire Cox.
In contrast, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote letters telling Trump that he should fire Comey, which Trump sent to Comey and released to the public.
“I cannot defend the director’s handling of the conclusion of the investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote in a letter that was released by the White House, “and I do not understand his refusal to accept the nearly universal judgment that he was mistaken.”
Comey is the second major Justice official Trump has fired.
The president fired Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on Jan. 30, just hours after she said the Justice Department would not defend the president’s executive order temporarily banning all refugees and travelers from seven predominately Muslim countries, which critics have dubbed a “Muslim Ban.”