In my desperate attempt to find the bright side in this age of Trump, I’m going to say something positive about yesterday’s power play in which the president unceremoniously fired FBI director James Comey.
Think of it as progress, sorta.
At the very least, there was a time not so long ago in which the FBI director was so diabolically powerful that no president, not even one as ruthless as Richard Nixon, would have dared to fire him.
This was, of course, during the long and horrid reign of J. Edgar Hoover, who ruled the FBI and its predecessor agency from 1924 until 1972, when he died at the age of 77.
Among his many unconstitutional acts of indecency, Hoover kept ever-expanding dossiers, supplanted with illegal wiretaps, on activists, union leaders, civil rights leaders, antiwar protesters, and elected officials, presidents included.
It was those dossiers that made Hoover untouchable. No president wanted to see his secrets—whatever they might be—on the front pages of the country’s papers.
But when Hoover died, his legacy of intimidation didn’t die with him. Nixon replaced Hoover with L. Patrick Gray. That appointment upset Mark Felt—the number two agent at the FBI—who believed he should have gotten the job. So Felt started feeding inside information about the Watergate scandal to his pal Bob Woodward at the Washington Post.
Yes, Deep Throat was an FBI agent. A fact I don’t think I’ll ever get over, as I grew up thinking Deep Throat was a white knight on a horse, having watched All the President’s Men one too many times.
Watergate, of course, was the scandal in which Nixon’s henchmen were caught breaking into Democratic National Convention headquarters to steal secrets that might help the president win reelection in 1972.
As the story of the scandal unfolded, Nixon and his aides plotted to stifle—or stonewall—the investigation.
Clearly, the FBI, or at least Felt, knew what was going on. But instead of investigating, he secretly leaked stuff to his favorite reporters in the hopes that the bad press might force Nixon to make him director of the FBI.
So you might argue that the honchos at the top of the FBI were complicit in the cover-up. And you wonder why so many people of my generation have no faith in anything.
Obviously, much has changed on many fronts since the days of Hoover. For one thing, Trump clearly has no fear of the FBI. He routinely blasted Comey during last year’s presidential campaign, castigating him for not castigating Hillary Clinton for her e-mail escapades.
Trump didn’t care that Comey might have compiled a dossier filled with such incriminating incidents as—just to pick one—Trump going on and on about how he felt entitled to grab women “by the pussy.”
No, that bit of Trump braggadocio came out on the eve of the election and Trump still won most of the evangelical and white-women vote.
Guess the public’s more tolerant of bad presidential behavior than they were back in the days of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
Trump’s official explanation for why he fired Comey is flimsy. “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation,” Trump wrote Comey, “I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”
I think pretty much everyone in America realizes that Trump’s just trying to intimidate other investigators from continuing the investigation into what the president knew and when he knew it about the Russian hacking of the Democratic Party’s computers.
Oh, yes, the Russians. That scandal won’t disappear no matter how many FBI directors Trump fires.
Nixon tried a similar thing back in 1973, when he fired the special prosecutor who was investigating the Watergate scandal.
It didn’t work. The investigation continued until Nixon was forced to resign.
It makes me wonder how long Republicans—like suburban congressmen Peter Roskam and Adam Kinzinger—will remain loyal to a president who’s so blatantly attempting to thwart an investigation into wrongdoing.
Nixon wound up taking down many Republican rubber-stampers with him. As long as I’m looking on the bright side, I’m going to suspect Trump will inevitably do the same.