US President Donald Trump’s move to sack FBI director James Comey has drawn comparisons to the former president Richard Nixon’s Watergate saga. Nixon was accused of obstructing justice when he applied pressure on the FBI to drop its probe into the Watergate scandal and the DNC break-in. While Trump has allegedly asked Comey to drop the agency’s investigation against disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Here is a look at the similarities and distinctions between the two cases:
Nixon was accused of directing his chief of staff to get the CIA to force the FBI to drop the investigation into the break-in. The act was an impeachable offence and it was the trigger point that led to his resignation.
Trump, on the other hand, reportedly asked Comey to see if he could let this go as Flynn “is a good man”. Previously, Flynn had failed to explain his ties with Russian diplomats and had to step down from his position.
In order to trigger an impeachment, Congress will have to vote to empower the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation and, subsequently, recommend that the president be sacked. As things stand, Republicans enjoy strength at all levels of the government in Washington and it seems unlikely that they would withdraw support from their Republican president, especially when there is no substantial evidence against him.
The cases bear a striking similarity but the level of support enjoyed by both presidents vary to a great degree.
It is still a mystery whether Nixon did order the break-in to the Democratic National Committee HQ located in the Watergate complex. The June 17, 1972 incident laid the ground for his exit. The reason for the break-in was not clear as well. Many speculated that one of the reasons could’ve been to investigate whether the DNC was receiving funds from the North Vietnamese government or from Cuba. Another theory hypothesised that it could’ve been to check the extent of information available with DNC chair Larry O’Brien about Nixon’s financial transactions with Howard Hughes, billionaire filmmaker and businessman.
The trigger point though was the “smoking gun” tape. Nixon had tasked his chief of staff H.R. Haldeman to get the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to force the FBI into dropping its investigation in the DNC break-in case.
The support he got from his Republican Party was lukewarm. However, some did support him when he fired the independent counsel who was probing the issue. He also found support from the same quarters when several of his aides quit along with Cabinet officials. The release of the “smoking gun” tape on August 5, 1974 meant that whatever support was left for Nixon dissipated. On August 7, he was told by Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, House Minority Leader John Jacob Rhodes, and former presidential candidate Senator Barry Goldwater that he had lost all support in Congress. He was told that the votes were there to trigger his impeachment over his role in the cover-up. He resigned a day later.
In Trump’s case, there are a lot of grey areas. His ties with Russia are yet to be proven. However, his failure to give a coherent explanation for firing Comey has raised eyebrows.
In the run-up to the presidential elections, Trump’s campaign advisers Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone came under the FBI scanner for possible links with the Russian government. Their names also figured when the emails exchanged between the DNC chair and the Hillary Clinton campaign were leaked.
Trump and his administration came under a lot of flak for not being transparent in their dealings. In a clear distinction to the Nixon case, Trump’s Republican friends in the Congress back him still and have not made any demands for an independent prosecutor. An impeachment is a far distant step. The main reason being the lack of solid incriminating evidence. While Nixon was undone by the Watergate tapes, the only thing going against Trump is a purported memo written by Comey before his sacking that claimed he was asked by the President to go easy on Flynn. White House has promptly denied it. Unless Comey comes with additional evidence, the case against him seems too weak to move further from here.