In a move strongly reminiscent of Nixon’s firing of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in the midst of an investigation into individuals close to the President who also had suspicious ties to Russia during last year’s presidential campaign.
Trump’s move is the first time in over 40 years, since Nixon’s so-called “Saturday Night Massacre,” that a sitting president had the nerve to fire an official in the middle of investigating the possibility of wrong-doing by his own people. Analysts agree the risks of such an action are huge.
“If President Trump thought the Russian hacking investigation would just go away, his decision today has insured that it won’t,” said presidential historian Timothy Naftali. “It’s going to make getting rid of those allegations so much harder. There’s now a cloud of doubt.”
It is not unheard of for a president to dismiss an FBI director. Bill Clinton fired William Sessions in 1993 while the FBI head was facing accusations of unethical conduct. Sessions was accused of taking an FBI to make a personal visit to his daughter; and for installing a home security system using tax dollars. But what Trump did is different. In the past 40 years only Nixon had the temerity to fire the person leading the probe into possible wrong-doing by his own campaign, at the advice of Trump’s attorney general who had already recused himself from this very investigation.
“It’s terrifying on so many levels,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and a former chief speechwriter for Clinton. “This has every appearance of a cover-up, a possible act of obstruction of justice, just as much as Nixon firing Archibald Cox. That’s the only comparable historical precedent I can think of.”