US President Donald Trump is being widely accused of a «Nixonian» cover-up after he took the drastic step of firing James Comey, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Comparisons are made by Washington politicians and pundits of disgraced former President Richard Nixon who sacked an independent investigator looking into the Watergate scandal back in 1973 in what became know as the Saturday Night Massacre.
Only, according to Trump’s critics, this is much worse than Watergate. That’s because Nixon – who was later forced to resign from the presidency in 1974 – was covering up criminal spying on American political rivals, while Trump is allegedly involved in a conspiracy with a foreign enemy state, Russia. That’s treasonous and a capital crime, in their view.
But hold it a moment. Richard Nixon was actually guilty of aiding a cover-up over a real case of burglary for political espionage on opponents. That burglary – by «the Plumbers» – involved intel operatives led by the infamous CIA agent Howard E Hunt and others who broke into the Democrat political headquarters at the Watergate hotel, with the purpose of conducting illicit surveillance for Nixon’s Republicans.
The fatal error in comparing that incident with the alleged collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government’s suspected hacking into his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign is that there has never been any credible evidence presented to support the tenuous claims made against Trump. It’s all bluster and insinuation that keeps running on and on, without any evidence seemingly ever presented.
The allegations of Trump-Russia collusion – in which it is claimed that the Kremlin conducted an «influence campaign» on American voters by releasing damaging private information about Clinton obtained from her campaign emails – have been continually leveled and amplified by US media without any substantiating proof.
James Comey, the former FBI chief, has been conducting an investigation into these allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian hackers for nearly six months – and yet there is still no sign of any definite conclusion coming forward. The same goes for similar probes that are being conducted by both chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and Senate. The allegations against Trump keep hanging in the air, without any sign of conclusion. This is not due legal process. In other words, the whole Russian affair seems aimed at creating a constant political cloud over Trump’s presidency in which the shadow of treasonous behavior is permitted to persist and to impede him politically.
Trump’s bombshell letter this week terminating Comey as FBI director was said to be due to Comey’s incompetence in handling the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton’s abuse of government secrecy rules while she was Secretary of State (2009-2013) in the former Obama administration. It has been established that Clinton used her own private, un-secure, email system to transmit classified information – a serious felony that could result in a prison sentence.
The real scandal, it seems, is that Washington’s political establishment and large sections of the corporate US media are more intent on delving into flimsy, politicized allegations against Trump of a Russian conspiracy than in pursuing the much more substantive case involving Clinton.
James Comey has been central to maintaining that staggering anomaly, which in effect has grave implications of unlawful political partisanship. As head of the FBI he was supposed to be scrupulously independent from all matters of politics.
Of course, the timing can be made to look appalling bad for Trump’s decision to sack Comey – if the Russian conspiracy theory is given the undue credibility that it has been afforded in the first place.
The New York Times published Wednesday on its front page the following headline: «Trump Fires Comey Amid Russia Inquiry». Other media outlets were similarly drawing the same picture of Trump getting rid of the man who is investigating his alleged links to Russia. Democrat politicians in particular were frenzied with the same inference. Senator Chuck Schumer asked with dramatical effect: «Were the investigators getting too close to the White House?»
Then as if to add more fuel to the political firestorm, Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House on the same day, to discuss US-Russian relations, among other global issues. The meeting was touted as the most senior personal contact yet between President Trump and the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin.
If Trump were a «Russian stooge» as the conspiracy theory has it, then he would appear to be a most reckless one. Imagine, on the day when his domestic opponents are accusing him of cover-up by sacking the FBI boss, Trump turns around and gives the Kremlin’s top diplomat a full-honors greeting at the Oval Office.
Instead of being a brazen, stupid «Russian stooge», Trump’s conduct is more plausibly explained by the contention that the whole alleged Russian collusion scandal is simply baseless. And Trump is not indulging the nonsense. Trump this week again dismissed the never-ending Congressional hearings into the matter as a «taxpayer-funded charade»… a «total hoax».
For all his failings and flaws, Trump is probably making the right call on this affair. It has abundant hallmarks of being nothing more than a politically driven witch-hunt, aimed at undermining his election to the presidency back in November. That victory shocked the US political establishment which had bet the farm on Hillary Clinton winning, due to her hawkish foreign policy and anti-Russian stance.
The «Russian hacking» narrative has since taken on a transcendent life of its own where repetition and assertion become self-generating «facts». Russia has consistently rejected all allegations that it interfered in the US presidential election. Russia’s Sergey Lavrov last month – in the presence of his American counterpart Rex Tillerson while in Moscow – repeated the Kremlin’s disclosure that it has not received one iota of evidence from Washington regarding the hacking allegations.
The case against Trump appears to be largely based on a dubious report authored by a former British MI6 spy, who has since distanced himself from its salacious claims. Nevertheless, the «Russian hacking» claims keep being churned out unabated by Western media outlets. Earlier this week, the head of the US National Security Agency (NSA), Admiral Mike Rogers, claimed before a Senate committee that Russia had interfered in the recent French presidential elections in an attempt to undermine Emmanuel Macron in favor of Marine Le Pen. Rogers did not provide any verifiable details to substantiate his claims, but the mere utterance of the allegations seems sufficient to establish «fact» – and so the narrative of «Russian hacking» just keeps rolling and rolling.
Getting back to Comey’s ignominious sacking by Trump. This is less about Trump assuming dictatorial powers and covering-up treason, as he is being charged with by his opponents, and much more about Comey being guilty of committing cock-up after cock-up.
Democrat opponents of Trump say that his termination of Comey is not credible. That’s because Trump formerly praised Comey over his investigation into Clinton’s email scandal. That’s true. Last year, 11 days before the US election on November 8, when Comey made a shock announcement that the FBI was re-opening a probe into Clinton’s alleged abuse of emails, Trump praised him as «having guts».
Then on the eve of the election, Comey backtracked and said the case against Clinton was closed, as he had previously said it was back in July 2016. This was flip-flopping par excellence by the US’s top crime investigator.
Also, the fact that Trump kept Comey on in the job when he assumed the presidency on January 20 is being cited by Democrats that Trump does not really have an issue with his tenure at the FBI. Comey was appointed to the job in 2013 by then President Obama. The ten-year FBI office is traditionally not revoked by incoming presidents. Trump’s critics deduce that his sacking of Comey is thus motivated by Trump’s desire to shut down the probe into alleged Russian connections.
But such logic does not take into account other major developments. As noted above, Comey has given himself a de facto license to run an open-ended probe into allegations of collusion between team Trump and Moscow, even though there is never any proof presented, only hearsay and the unaccountable reliance on «classified information». In effect, Comey has politicized his power as the top law enforcer.
This is while Comey has singularly failed to go after Hillary Clinton and her much more substantiated misconduct. The last straw seems to have been Comey announcing to Congress last week that «hundreds and thousands» of Clinton’s government emails had been «forwarded» outside of classified protocol. Then this week, Comey suddenly revoked that testimony when he notified Congress he had erred; that the number of offending emails only amounted to a fraction of what he claimed last week.
What emerges is an FBI director who was bumbling, incompetent and personally responsible for a whole catalogue of cock-ups. Comey had singlehandedly undermined the FBI and turned it into a political weapon (nothing new here given the shenanigans under notorious predecessor Edgar J Hoover). Therefore, Trump is right to give Comey the sack.
What prevents the Washington political class and its corporate media hacks from seeing straight on the issue – and hence wasting inordinate time and resources – is that it is so besotted with its delusional propaganda about Russia as a malign enemy undermining American democracy. The people undermining American democracy are its fat-cat politicians sitting on Capitol Hill and their servile media, who instead of serving citizens are too busy wielding self-serving conspiracy theories demonizing Trump and Russia.
This is no Trump cover-up. It’s a Comey cock-up. And he deserves the boot. Just like much of the self-serving incompetent Washington establishment.