If Donald Trump is forced to leave office early — a prospect that is no longer as unimaginable as it once was — May 9-16 will become known as the seven days that shook the world.
It is almost hard to remember now the media hoopla that accompanied Trump’s 100th day in office on April 29. Many pundits, myself included, wrote that Trump was normalizing. The past seven days have been anything but normal; indeed, they constitute the most bizarre week of the U.S. presidency since the dark days of Watergate.
Trump’s Time of Troubles began with the Tuesday Night Massacre: the shocking firing of FBI Director James Comey. The ostensible explanation was Comey’s improper public comments about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, as laid out in a memorandum from Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein. But within two days Trump had blown that explanation to smithereens, admitting he would have fired Comey regardless, simply because he wanted to bring the investigation of his own links to Russia (“a made-up story”) to an end.
The very next day, Trump hosted the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office, producing embarrassing photos of the president yukking it up with America’s inveterate foes. It turns out that he shared with the Russians “code-word” secrets — that is, some of the most highly classified information in the entire government. In the process Trump burned Israel, which had provided the information, and risked exposing an invaluable source of intelligence on Islamic State. The president at first sent his aides to falsely deny what he had done, and then, just as in the Comey case, came clean.
Meanwhile, Comey’s counterattack unfolded. Last week his friends reported that Trump had invited the FBI director to dinner in January, demanding his loyalty and a reassurance that he, the president, was not a subject of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
And now Part II of the counterattack: reports that in February Trump pressured Comey to end the investigation of Mike Flynn, the national security advisor who had been fired for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. Before telling Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” Trump asked other participants in the meeting to leave the Oval Office, suggesting that he knew what he was about to say was improper.
Comey documented the conversation in a contemporaneous memorandum that he distributed to his confidants. Immediate, pro forma White House denials carry little weight because of how often the president and his spokesmen have lied about matters big (the Comey firing) and small (the inaugural crowd size).
More is sure to come out because Comey documented other conversations, and Congress is now demanding access not only to those memoranda but also to their author, who has said he is willing to testify in open session. What the White House tapes were to Nixon, the Comey memos may be to Trump: the evidence that definitively exposes his villainy.
It is too soon to say this is the beginning of the end for a president who has already defied predictions of his political demise. Impeachment still is a long shot in a Congress so firmly dominated by the president’s own party. But it is no longer unthinkable, and it no longer depends on having to prove a nebulous connection between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. In the past week, copious evidence has emerged of Trump obstructing justice, proving the old Washington adage that the cover-up is always worse than the crime.
Republicans who have been incorrigible in their defense of the indefensible are suddenly showing glimmers of self-respect. On Tuesday night, Fox News, which performs the same function for this White House as RT (Russia Today) does for the Kremlin, was reporting that it couldn’t find any Republicans willing to defend Trump in public. Let us hope this is not just a temporary aberration, as was the case when the Access Hollywood videotape was released in October, with craven partisans first un-endorsing and then re-endorsing the genital-grabber.
No Republican should aspire to be known as the Rabbi Korff of the Trump administration — Baruch Korff was the Nixon diehard who was advising the president not to resign right up until the day that he actually did. Instead Republicans should aspire, as suggested by Tom Wright of the Brookings Institution, to be the second coming of Leo Amery.
Who was Leo Amery? He was the Conservative member of Parliament who in 1940 quoted Oliver Cromwell to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the architect of appeasement: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
Trump has been in office only 117 days, but he has already overstayed his welcome. For the good of the country, he should resign before our new national nightmare gets worse.
Max Boot is a contributing writer to Opinion and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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