Could Trump at least stop using the same words Nixon did?
Look. Donald Trump is not Richard Nixon. And whatever the scandal juggernaut that has engulfed his administration turns out to be, it still hasn’t hit the point at which his party’s own congressional leadership betrays him — meaning it’s still unlikely that he’ll have to face the choice Nixon faced of resignation over impeachment.
But for Pete’s sake, it would be easier to have some perspective if the president himself stopped echoing Nixon all the time.
Last week, it was the joke (?) about having “tapes” of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey — reminiscent of the White House tapes Nixon kept of his Oval Office conversations, which conveniently ended up recording evidence of his involvement in covering up the Watergate burglary. And in the past 24 hours, the hits just keep on coming.
First of all, the president’s insistence that he’s facing “the single biggest witch hunt of a politician in American history…”
…might have been challenged by Nixon — or at least his staff, who used the term in summer of 1973, right after the existence of the tapes was leaked to the public, to criticize the members of Congress who dared to ask for them.
The article itself depicts an isolated, insecure White House staff with nothing they can do about it but leak anonymously to the very reporters they malign — which is a pretty recognizable picture if you’re familiar with, say, Maggie Haberman’s work in the New York Times these days.
President Nixon and his top aides believe that the Senate ‘Watergate hearings are unfair and constitute a “political witch-hunt,” according to White House sources. The sources, said, that the President in recent weeks had expressed bitterness and deep hostility toward the two-month-old proceedings. “The President sees the hearings as an attempt to get Richard Nixon and do it just damn unfairly,” one source said.
According to four separate sources, the hostility toward the hearings is pervasive among the White House staff, especially among former assistants to H. R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, the resigned top presidential aides. One White House source said he saw the struggle with the Senate Watergate committee as not just politics hut a battle for survival. “The Ervin committee is out to destroy the President,” he said.
But Trump isn’t just echoing Nixon’s staff. He’s echoing Nixon himself.
According to a Yahoo News report Thursday, Trump’s ex-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn — who is arguably the reason Trump is in this mess to begin with — has told confidantes that he’s been in touch with Trump since being fired in mid-February. In particular, according to the report, he says he received a late-April message telling him to “stay strong.”
Contacting Flynn while Flynn is under investigation not only by the FBI, House, and Senate but also by a grand jury empaneled in Virginia is a legally unwise move at best and federal witness tampering at worst. And it sits uneasily with reports that Trump told Comey that he hoped the FBI would “see your way to” letting Flynn go without charges.
But it’s also an eerie echo of what Nixon told his disgraced chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, after announcing that Haldeman (and three other staffers) had resigned in April 1973. The call was picked up on another White House tape released in 2013. As NBC News described the tape:
In a recorded phone call with Haldeman about an hour after the April 30 speech in which he told the nation that Haldeman and others were resigning, Nixon is heard telling Haldeman, “It’s a tough thing, Bob, for you, for John, the rest, but God damn it, I never want to discuss this son of a bitch Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never.” […]
Nixon also tells Haldeman: “You’re a strong man, God damn it and I love you and I love John. … Keep the faith, keep the faith. You’ve got to win this son of a bitch.”
No one is going to claim that these are signs of Trump’s guilt. It’s not even clear that Donald Trump knows enough about Watergate to be aware of the odd little parallels. That’s kind of the problem: It’s not clear how much Donald Trump understands about Watergate at all. He doesn’t appear to understand that joking about “tapes” is the sort of thing likely to increase legal scrutiny, or that the cover-up is usually worse than the crime, or that, if things get bad enough, your own party will decide you’re too much of a liability.
If Trump understood history well enough to be aping Richard Nixon deliberately in his rhetoric, he’d probably be taking more care, in private, to avoid repeating his mistakes.