When Richard Nixon feared that the investigations into his criminal scandals were going to take him down and he got desperate, he took a gamble. He fired just about everyone in charge of investigating him all on the same night, in the hope that the shock and awe would make the investigation go away. Instead it backfired, and ultimately led to his demise. Donald Trump has been trying the same approach, but in super slow motion. But is it working?
Trump’s gamble has been that if he fires the top investigators in his Russia scandal one at a time, and lets a good amount of time pass between each ouster, he might be able to gradually erode the investigation until nothing was left of it. He started it eight months ago when he fired FBI Director James Comey; some would argue that it began even earlier when he fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. It’s still ongoing. Just this week he managed to badger FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe into retiring. Here’s the trouble.
This strategy would be working for Trump if these people were simply being forced to walk the plank without anyone to take their place and keep the investigation intact. But when Trump fired Comey, it resulted in the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller to take over the investigation in Comey’s place. When Trump replaced Comey with Christopher Wray months later, he thought Wray was on his side. But when he told Wray to fire McCabe, Wray refused.
Now that Trump has managed to get rid of McCabe after all, he’s been replaced by David Bowdich, whose record suggests that he has as much integrity as McCabe does. Trump seems to be trying to get rid of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but his replacement would be Rachel Brand. She’s a conservative, so Trump probably thinks she’ll on his side. However, Brand earned the trust of President Obama, which suggests that she’ll play things by the book as well.
The trouble with Donald Trump’s slow-motion Saturday Night Massacre is that it allows the other side to keep reloading. There’s no attrition here. The Trump-Russia investigation is in as good of hands as ever; it’s just in different hands now. Trump’s strategy hasn’t yet backfired to the point that it’s forced him out of office. But the counts of obstruction of justice and key witnesses against him sure keep getting racked up, suggesting that his gamble will indeed take him down in the end.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report