Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Liquidation of FBI Director Comey was hardly the same as Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. But Trump’s disastrous presidency, highlighted this week by the Senate’s investigation into his national security advisor Michael Flynn — at least, that is, until the Comey firing the next day upstaged it — is already dredging up memories of Richard Nixon and Watergate. But give Nixon a little credit: he’d been president for over four years before the Watergate scandal undermined him; Trump’s on increasingly thin ice, and he’s not yet made it through four months.

Rehashing “might-have-beens’’ is a useless exercise, but as we get deeper into the mess that is the Trump presidency, the “only if,’’ of the Democratic choice for president, smacks us in the face. Who can say whether old Bernie would have beaten Trump, but Hillary’s glaring weakness — she carried more baggage than a fully loaded 18-wheeler — was Bernie’s strength: he was baggage-less.

Monday’s Senate hearings of former Acting Attorney General Yates and ex-Director of National Intelligence Clapper zeroed in on the specter of Russian meddling into last year’s presidential election — and whether it was just typical Russian behavior or involved some sort of collaboration with the Trump campaign. Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey the next day only heightened the suspicion that his FBI knew too much about Trump and the Russians.

While there’s no evidence — yet — tying Trump or his staff to collaboration with Russia, it’s been clear from the beginning that he’s had a weird, almost obsessive, admiration for Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. And while it may be just a coincidence, a surprising number of his campaign officials — Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and most notoriously, of course, Michael Flynn — have had close ties or business dealings with Russia.

Beyond that, we also know that Yates specifically warned Trump’s chief White House counsel that Flynn had lied to Vice-President Pence about his conversation with the Russian ambassador in which he discussed the ongoing sanctions against Russia; and that the Russians knew about Flynn’s lie to Pence and were in a position to blackmail Flynn. And White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has publicly confirmed that Trump was quickly advised of Yates’ information.

But despite the fact that Flynn had been compromised, and President Trump knew it, he not only retained Flynn in his highly sensitive White House job, but involved him subsequently in a top-secret phone conversation with Putin.

As Senator Whitehouse pointed out, there was an 18-day gap between the time the White House was informed of Flynn’s liabilities and his being fired. What an ironic coincidence: an 18-minute gap brought down Nixon more than 40 years ago; what effect will an 18-day gap have on Trump’s presidency?

 


But I digress. Back to the story line: what prompted Flynn’s firing was the public revelation of his behavior by the Washington Post. Which of course begs the particularly relevant question: if someone hadn’t leaked the information to the Post, would Flynn — compromised by the Russians and Trump aware of it — still be a key White House advisor to the president?

And an even bigger question: Why in the world, since Trump had been informed of Flynn’s apparent treachery, did he keep him on in a job in which he had access to some of the most highly sensitive information in the US government? Although no one has publicly speculated on this, is it possible that when Flynn contacted the Russian ambassador in late December, while Obama was still president, and discussed the sanctions the Obama government had put on Russia, it was done with President-elect Trump’s knowledge, or even at his prompting?

And yet a new question: Why did Trump fire Comey just as the FBI was digging into the Russian question? Did Trump really think that by raising the old Hillary email problem he could deflect the public’s attention away from the possibility of illegal ties between Russia and the Trump campaign? How delusional is our president?

Trump’s sudden firing of Comey has only further focused media attention on what he, and the FBI, were uncovering. Any attempt by Trump to replace Comey with a political hack will only point a further finger of suspicion at Trump.

Mid-term elections are still 18 months down the road, but that’s a relatively short time in today’s highly politicized climate. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham clearly co-chaired an impressive line of bipartisan questioning on Monday. There’s likely to be a “drip-drip-drip’’ quality to the Flynn, and now the Comey, matter: they are not going to disappear. And as the mid-terms draw nearer, Republican congressmen, and even some senators up for re-election, can be expected to distance themselves from their Republican president.

Who knew what when? Or with that 18-day/18-minute coincidence and the Tuesday Afternoon Liquidation reminding us ever more of Watergate, “What did he know and when did he know it?” Sure, Flynngate, or Comeygate — or Trumpgate? — is not Watergate. Not yet. But we could well be in the early days of the undoing of the Trump presidency. And if I were House Republicans, I’d be hoping to get Trump replaced by Pence long before I have to face re-election.

Meanwhile, President Trump met yesterday with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov....