Everyone's Comparing Trump to Nixon Now

Critics see echoes of the 1973 'Saturday Night Massacre'
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 10, 2017 6:45 AM CDT
Is the Comey Firing a 'Nixonian' Move?
President Richard Nixon in 1973.   (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs. File)

President Trump's surprise firing of James Comey has one word in wide circulation: "Nixonian." Specifically, critics see a parallel to Nixon's "Saturday Night Massacre" in 1973, when the president ordered the firing of the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. Comey, for his part, was investigating ties between Trump officials and Russian meddling in the election. Is the comparison legitimate? Here's a look at coverage:

  • Slate digs into the comparisons with background on the Nixon move, including the Washington Post's coverage of it at the time. One difference: Trump acted with the backing of his attorney general, while Nixon's resigned.
  • Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Bob Casey were among the first to publicly make Nixon-Watergate comparisons, but Trump ally Roger Stone also did so. "Somewhere Dick Nixon is smiling," said Stone, who worked for Nixon, in defending the move, per the New York Times.
  • Axios has a list of lawmakers bringing up Nixon.
  • You know who's not happy with the comparisons? The Nixon Library. "FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI," it tweeted, per the Hill.
  • Trump critics who think this might end similarly for today's president need a reality check, writes Jeff Greenfield at Politico. One key difference: Both houses of Congress are in GOP hands now. "In terms of the political climate, the position of the president, and the alignment of stars in Washington, this isn’t apples and oranges—it’s apples and bowling balls."

  • So what does John Dean, Nixon's former White House counsel, think? "It’s very Nixonian, in its own way," he says, per Politico. "But that’s typical of the man. They’re obviously trying the get the bureau back under the Department of Justice’s control. But I don’t think it’ll affect the Russia investigation."
  • Time notes that the last president to fire the FBI chief was Bill Clinton, who canned William Sessions over ethics allegations. "But it hasn't been since Nixon that a president terminated a person investigating him."
  • The Boston Globe editorializes that Trump "just pulled a Richard Nixon." Comey had an independent streak, and Trump "clearly doesn't want a man like that in charge of an investigation that reaches deep into his inner circle and could have serious repercussions for his administration."
  • A Nixon biographer, John Farrell, isn't sure what to make of the comparisons. "Trump is a unique individual who is not bound by the normal strictures of politics, so we don’t know if he’s doing this because he’s unpredictable or because he’s hiding something," he tells the Washington Post.
  • Also in the Post, Rutgers history professor David Greenberg writes that the moves by Nixon and Trump were technically legal but blatant abuses of power. "The most pressing question is whether Republicans in Congress will muster the same courage and integrity Republicans did after Watergate."
(More James Comey stories.)

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