Juan Williams: Trump morphs into Nixon

Juan Williams: Trump morphs into Nixon
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President Trump’s cheering section is in full fury at any suggestion that the White House is caught in a downward spiral to rival the legendary scandal that forced President Nixon from office: Watergate.

Where’s the crime, they ask — even as Trump’s Justice Department appoints a special counsel to investigate Russia’s actions during the 2016 campaign and possible collusion between Moscow and the president’s associates.

Where’s the crime, they demand — even as Reuters reports that the Trump campaign had more than 18 phone calls and email exchanges, previously undisclosed, with Russian officials in the final months of the campaign.

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Where’s the crime, they insist — while Trump prompts memories of Watergate by tweeting: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

 

Even Trump’s most loyal supporters will have to agree it was a crime if the president asked then-FBI Director Comey to back off an investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.

South Carolina’s Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report — Mueller Time: Dems, GOP ready questions for high-stakes testimony Democrats should rise above and unify against Trump's tweets US-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' MORE, a Republican, has no doubt: “It seems to me now to be considered a criminal investigation.”

Anyone sniffing around for a criminal act might want to note that Comey is reported to have made contemporaneous notes of that February meeting.

They might also focus upon a New York Times story that emerged on Friday, reporting that Trump had told Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting that “great pressure because of Russia” had been “taken off” with the ouster of Comey.

If it is proved that Trump asked the FBI to close a probe because he did not want Flynn’s ties to Russia exposed that is a classic case of a crime — obstruction of justice.

That was the charge at the heart of the case against Nixon over Watergate.

As the search for a crime continues, it is important to note that impeachment does not require a statutory felony.

All that is needed is for Congress to agree that the president’s actions fit their definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Lying to government officials, cover-ups, and taking money from a foreign government without proper disclosure all look like a good fit for a subjective claim of “high crimes.”

"I think it's reaching the point where it's of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals you and I have seen," another Republican, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainStephen Miller hits Sunday show to defend Trump against racism charges Michelle Obama weighs in on Trump, 'Squad' feud: 'Not my America or your America. It's our America' Meghan McCain shares story of miscarriage MORE of Arizona, told veteran newsman Bob Schieffer last week. "Every couple of days, there's a new aspect of this really unhappy situation."

As the author of a new book on the people who shaped American history in the latter half of the 20th century, the parallels between Nixon and Trump jump out at me. And historians are not the only people noticing.

A new survey from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) also released last week found for the first time that a plurality of voters, 48 percent, supports the impeachment of President Trump. This figure includes 12 percent of self-described Trump voters. The same poll also found widespread public support, 62 percent, for an independent special prosecutor.

Talk of a special prosecutor and prospects for impeachment invite comparisons to Watergate, the only scandal that forced an American president to resign.

Trump fired Comey as the FBI investigation was heating up. Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox as the Watergate probe got hot and closer to the president.

The politics of the Trump-Russia scandal look a lot like the politics of Watergate.

Remember that Nixon only resigned the presidency when he and his top aides realized that he had lost the support of most Congressional Republicans. The GOP feared a wipeout in the 1974 midterm elections so they made the political calculation that their only chance to save their seats in Congress was to distance themselves from the politically toxic Republican president.

With 18 months to go until the 2018 midterm elections, Congressional Republicans have begun to distance themselves from Trump. The pace of the retreat quickened last week with some of the most vulnerable House Republicans loudly demanding answers.

“It is time for an investigation of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. Election,” Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif,.) said. “There is too much at stake at home and abroad to not take this step. There is so much conflicting information from many sources; Americans deserve the opportunity to learn the truth.”

Knight is one of 23 Republican House members whose districts voted for Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChelsea Clinton announces birth of third child Ukrainian officials and Giuliani are sharing back-channel campaign information: report A question for Robert Mueller MORE over Trump last year.

It is no coincidence that last week’s news was accompanied by increased chatter in conservative circles about the possibility of Vice President Pence becoming the 46th president of the United States.

“President Trump needs an intervention,” wrote top conservative blogger Erik Erickson. “Without that, we need his resignation. Republicans… have no need for him with Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump says he will meet with Schumer 'ASAP' after border visit Pence's daughter announces engagement Pence says Trump 'might' speak out if rally crowd chants 'send her back' again MORE in the wings.”

President Ford pardoned Nixon for his Watergate crimes.  How long before we start discussing whether President Pence will pardon his predecessor so the country can move on from its present national nightmare?

Trump’s die-hard backers will still be looking for the crime.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.
 
The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.