Our democracy has never felt so fragile in my lifetime, and the same probably goes for you. But you probably remember learning in history class of the last time there were firings of this magnitude while investigations were circling the White House. I'm talking about the 37th president, Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace following the Watergate scandal. Well, guess what? Even Nixon's presidential library made pains to point out President Trump is not quite like him. That's right — the Richard Nixon Presidential Library trolled Trump on Twitter following the firing of FBI Director James Comey.
They tweeted, "FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI," and the trolling is spot on, because, as mentioned, Nixon is especially remembered for inappropriately firing people at the worst possible time. Many have already compared Comey's firing to the Saturday Night Massacre, a moment during Nixon's troubled second term in which he tried to force the attorney general to fire the special prosecutor in charge of investigating his role in the Watergate break-in. The attorney general wouldn't do it, and neither would the deputy. Eventually, Nixon had to find someone far enough down the chain who would. This led the media to begin coverage of what was called at the time a constitutional crisis.
Nixon was forced to appoint another special prosecutor, who was able to move forward in the investigation to the point where Nixon resigned instead of facing impeachment. In its tweet, the Nixon Library used the hashtag #notNixonian, implying that Trump's moves should not be equated with the 37th president's. Whether Trump's move is better or worse, however, is left open to interpretation.
If Trump fired a special prosecutor in charge of the Russian investigation, that would clearly be an ethics problem given the conflict of interest. But by firing the FBI director, the official overseeing the non-partisan investigation into possible collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, it's more complicated. But because Comey's job includes many other responsibilities, Trump can spin it, as he has, as a decision based on the outgoing FBI director's job performance.
Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre came 1,700 days into his presidency— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) May 10, 2017
Trump's came 110 days in
And because Democrats have already been complaining about the way Comey handled the Clinton email investigation, the White House thinks they have cover — despite the irony that Trump praised Comey for his actions on the campaign trail, and the seemingly good relationship they've had during Trump's early days as president (until Tuesday, that is). Even the dismissal letter seems to point to Comey doing exactly what the president wants:
Ultimately, this moment might not be the same turning point that the Saturday Night Massacre was for Nixon. The Republicans hold both chambers of Congress, and for there to be an independent investigation, it would need to be started either by the Trump administration (which is unlikely) or with the approval of GOP Republicans (which, as things stand, also seems like a long shot). But the parallels are still there, to the point that even Nixon's presidential library found a little trolling necessary.