Friday, May 8, 2020

What did Donald Trump do today?

He talked about what he'd learned from President Nixon.

During a phone interview this morning, the recently impeached Trump shared one of the lessons he'd learned from presidential history:

I learned a lot from Richard Nixon. Don't fire people. Of course there was one difference, one big difference. Number one, he may have been guilty. And number two, he had tapes all over the place. I wasn't guilty. I did nothing wrong, and there are no tapes. But I wish there were tapes in my case.

There's a lot to unpack here. 

Nixon's firing of his top two Justice Department officials in an attempt to protect himself from prosecution was indeed a factor in his eventual resignation, Trump has systematically fired almost everyone connected in any way to the Russia and Ukraine investigations. He started with FBI Director James Comey, who refused to back off an investigation of Trump's disgraced advisor Michael Flynn. He's also pushed out almost everyone who testified about the Ukraine scandal.

Almost the only person connected to Trump's attempts to get foreign countries to win elections for him was Jefferson Sessions, his first attorney general. Sessions was himself a subject of the Russia investigation, so had no choice but to appoint an independent prosecutor. Trump rewarded Sessions with public humiliation for almost two years in an effort to get him to quit. 

It's not clear what "tapes" Trump wanted his audience to think he'd been too clever to make. There is plenty of evidence that is known to exist for the Ukraine bribery scandal, but Trump has successfully avoided having to show the world the full contents of the call in which he attempted to force the president of Ukraine to publicly announce an "investigation" into Joe Biden. (We know this in part because he bragged about it on live TV.) Even the carefully redacted version of that call he did release, in an effort to get ahead of the scandal, was enough to get him impeached. 

Why does this matter?

  • "How not to get caught" isn't the lesson a president should be learning from Nixon's example.