George W. Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer is defending Trump Jr on two points: “One: Was this bad judgment to take a meeting, or was it a crime? Seems to me it’s bad judgment. Two: Is it collusion, or is it opposition research? Seem to me it’s opposition research.” Trump Jr offered a similar self-defense, tweeting sarcastically: “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent.” While the circular weaknesses of these defenses are striking (all crimes require bad judgement, opposition research was the goal of the collusion), the historic precedent is even more striking. As the possibility for impeachment builds, the parallels to Watergate build too.
Members of the Nixon campaign team broke into the DNC offices to get “info about an opponent.” The break-in occurred the June before the fall Presidential election. Members of the Trump campaign (Trump Jr, Kushner, and Manaforte, who Trump Jr. called the “campaign boss”) took a meeting to get opposition research from the Russian government. Both attempts failed. Both attempts were also criminal. The Watergate burglars didn’t go free because their break-in didn’t produce anything useful for the Nixon campaign. Yet Senator McConnell’s former chief of staff Josh Holmes is defending the Trump campaign on the parallel fact: “There’s an awful lot of critics that are going to jump to the conclusion that this is a smoking gun. The reality is, as far as we know from that meeting itself, absolutely nothing came out of this.”
As of yesterday, we know that a former Soviet counterintelligence officer with continuing ties to the Kremlin was one of the eight people in the Trump Tower meeting–so the meeting itself, not what it might have produced afterwards, is the concern. We also know that Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski lied about the meeting: “I wasn’t even made aware of the meeting. And what I do remember on that particular day was that was a day that Donald Trump was doing a rally in the state of Florida, so I traveled with the president that day.” But that rally took place two days later.
After refusing to answer the question on Thursday, yesterday the Vice President’s office released a statement: “The Vice President was not aware of the meeting.” After the arrests, President Nixon swore he knew nothing too: “I can say categorically that … no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” We are now receiving similar assurances from the Trump administration, and Trump Jr says he did not tell the President anything about the meeting.
Perhaps the parallels will stop there. If so, your job remains easy. As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you can continue to ignore the scandal, arguing accurately that grounds for impeachment have not been met. But if the parallels continue, you will eventually be in Rep. Peter W. Rodino’s position when he lead the House Judiciary Committee to a bipartisan vote on impeachment in 1974. Even though he was a Democrat, Rodino said that he wept afterwards:
“this is our system that was being tested. And here was a man who had achieved the highest office that anyone could gift him with, you know. And you’re bringing down the presidency of the United States, and it was a sad, sad commentary on our whole history…”
Donald Trump and the collusion scandal is a sad, sad commentary too. Will you shed tears for him if you have to lead his impeachment?