Two Flags by Jasper Johns.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Watergate was my formative political experience. I lived through it and experienced the drip, drip, drip of daily revelations. Part of my teenage rebellion was arguing with my father about Watergate. He was a Nixon delegate in 1972 and didn’t buy any of it until, that is, the summer of 1974. He met Barry Goldwater Jr at some function. Goldwater told Lou that John Dean was a close friend of his and that he believed his story. Lou’s belief in Nixon was badly shaken although he continued to tell me not to be gleeful over his downfall. I continued dancing on Tricky Dick’s political grave. I have the same plan with the Insult Comedian.
Something fundamentally changed with the Comey memo revelation. The Trump-Russia scandal reached critical mass on that day followed by the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel yesterday. When I heard the news, I couldn’t resist saying “I told you so” on Social Media. The Cardinal rule of American politics is NEVER MESS WITH THE FBI. Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon all wanted to fire J Edgar Hoover. Harry Truman despised Hoover. None of them fired him because, in LBJ’s memorable phrase, they preferred him inside the tent pissing out to outside the tent pissing in. NEVER MESS WITH THE FBI.
Messing with the FBI was Nixon’s undoing. The infamous “smoking gun” tape involved his attempt to get acting FBI director and Nixon sycophant L. Patrick Gray to kill the investigation. Gray tried but, in the end, messing with the FBI destroyed his reputation. He was one of many Nixon dignity wraiths. Sound familiar?
I was a “who was Deep Throat” buff until Mark Felt revealed his identity in 2005. He was on my short list along with Alexander Haig. Haig was my number one candidate because Woodward and Bernstein wrote so glowingly about him in The Final Days. That’s Woodward’s typical modus operandi with anonymous sources but he didn’t do that with Felt. The lesson of Deep Throat: NEVER MESS WITH THE FBI.
The timing of the Mueller appointment is no accident. Rod Rosenstein is testifying on Capitol Hill today. It’s also an attempt to scrub some of the tarnish off his reputation. It’s what happens when you become one of Trump’s dignity wraiths. It reminds me of a line from the super trashy movie The Oscar: “You lay down with pigs, you come up smelling like garbage.” That’s the fate of Trump’s dignity wraiths.
It’s time for his staff to lawyer up and/or resign. Trump destroys everything he touches. I like what Never Trump conservative Rick Wilson had to say about this:
Every day you get up, slide into the seat of your Prius or Tahoe (and if you’re senior enough, exchange a few polite words with your driver) and start checking Twitter. Whatever it is that you’re feeling, it doesn’t feel anything like Morning in America. It feels like some faraway kleptocracy where the center hasn’t held, the airfield and radio station have fallen to the rebels, and the Maximum Leader is holed up in his secret bunker waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Sticking with Trump to the bitter end and pretending the unfolding chaos is just “fake news” won’t save your reputation as the walls close in. It won’t ease the judgment of history. It won’t do anything to polish up your future Wikipedia entry.
Cutting ties with a man who is destructive to our values, profoundly divisive, contemptuous of the rule of law and incontrovertibly unfit to serve in the highest office in the land just might. Do it now.
Shorter Rick Wilson: don’t be a dignity wraith, jump in a lifeboat and paddle like hell to the shore. Congressional Republicans would be well-advised to do likewise but they’re slow learners. It will take time for them to come around. They won’t do it out of patriotism or principle but because they’re staring into their political graves. Even Mitch McConnell will betray Trump eventually. He’s the most cynical man in public life and would sell his grandmother to maintain his slender majority. But it will take time. It’s what happens when you mess with the FBI.
The good news is that this sort of scandal consumes Washington and the worst parts of Trump’s agenda are in serious jeopardy. Here’s Rick Wilson again:
…your president botched Trumpcare 1.0 and contributed little as House Speaker Paul Ryan managed to ram public-relations nightmare, Trumpcare 2.0, through the House at the cost of much political blood and treasure. Instead, Trump’s fumbles have left many members of Congress ducking town hall meetings like they’re in the Witness Protection Program. The DOA tax bill and the rest of Trump’s agenda are deader and more pungent than six-day-old fish.
Senate Democrats need to keep the pressure up. For one thing, they should fight anyone Trump appoints to head the FBI. The administration’s* flirtation with Joe Lieberman only shows how out of touch they are. He’s unpopular with Senate Democrats and loathed by the rank and file. This can only be explained as an attempt to buy off Little Lindsey and Senator Walnuts.
As for the president* himself, Trump’s Razor is still in effect. Bigly. When there’s a problem, he only makes it worse with whiny, outlandish tweets and inappropriate public comments. The Coast Guard’s commencement ceremony is not a place for political comments such as this:
Never, ever, ever give up. Things will work out just fine. Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams. I guess that’s why we won.
I guess he forgot that his proposed budget cut the Coast Guard by 14%. The Insult Comedian is not a details man. The Trumpian toddler tantrum continued on twitter this morning. This is what some internet smart ass had to say about it:
Trump is not only the whiner-in-chief, he’s the arsonist-in-chief. I think David Bowie put it best in the song below, “He’s putting out fire with gasoline.”
Trump has the power to fire Mueller and is stupid enough to do so. But the reaction to that would make the Comey firing look like a weenie roast. Mueller is one of the few genuinely non-partisan figures in public life. He’s been appointed to high office by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Bobby Three Sticks survived the Bush years with his reputation intact, in part, because of his opposition to torture.
It’s time to circle back to the post title. Because of my Watergate fixation, I am usually the first person to tell people NOT to compare a given scandal to it. The events of the last two weeks have led me to invoke the Spirit of ’73, which was when people stood up to a criminal enterprise operating out of the White House.
While it’s true that Trump cannot be indicted while in office, the pressure from the Mueller investigation and others will make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to finish his term. Another question posed by the unraveling is: what happens to his sanctimonious Veep? He appears to be implicated in the Flynn cover up. He may need to pardon himself as well as his master.
The unraveling will take time and patience but Trump sealed his eventual fate by firing Comey. Repeat after me: NEVER MESS WITH THE FBI.
Let’s give Tom Petty the last word: