Obstruction of justice was first, abuse of powers was second, noncompliance with subpoenas was third. Those were approved. One on emoluments and income taxes was rejected.
Sound like someone in power today? Not yet, but getting close. All four (plus one more) were the articles of impeachment proposed and voted on by the House Judiciary Committee’s inquiry into the impeachment of President Richard M. Nixon nearly 45 years ago.
Each began with this opening or very similar:
“In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, contrary to his oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the law be faithfully executed….”
Apparent Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has rejected the idea of impeachment when Democrats take control of the U.S. House of Representatives at noon on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. But, nearly 50 new members (one from Hawaii returned after having served more than a decade ago) are together now going through orientation, and they not only may not agree with Pelosi, they may not favor her return as Speaker.
The new member who has served before is Ed Case, who served between 2002 and 2007, when he ran unsuccessfully for Senate. While in the House, he was a member of the Judiciary Committee, the panel that would initiate impeachment proceedings to remove Donald Trump from office.
New York’s Jerrold Nadler, who is in line to be chairman of the panel in January, campaigned for re-election in part on his qualifications to run impeachment proceedings. The new chairman of the committee next door, Oversight and Government, is Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who has made no secret of his plans to use the panel’s broad subpoena power to investigate Trump’s emoluments and taxes.
Trump already has knocked over the first domino that led to the Saturday Night Massacre that kicked off the Nixon impeachment proceedings on October 20, 1973. Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor looking into the White House cover-up of the June 22, 1972, break-in of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Office Building.
Nixon ordered Cox’s firing after the prosecutor issued a subpoena for the White House to turn over 64 tapes of Nixon’s conversations with his aides involved in the cover-up. Another aide, Alexander Butterfield, had revealed the existence of tapes to the special Senate Watergate Committee. The best Nixon was willing to do was to turn over summaries of the nine tapes, claiming executive privilege and asserting the tapes were classified. Cox was prosecuting a grand jury case involving a related aspect of the many-pronged Watergate fiasco that he also was probing.
Richardson, who had promised the Senate at his confirmation for the job that Cox would be totally untouched. Nixon fired Richardson and now Trump has fired his Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from any involvement in the selection of Robert Mueller to serve the Cox role in investigating Trump’s involvement in Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
After Richardson declined to fire Cox, Nixon ordered Justice’s deputy attorney general, William Ruckelshaus, to fire him. Loyal to Richardson, Ruckelshaus declined and he was fired. His equivalent today is Rod Rosenstein, who was responsible for appointing Mueller, so he would be highly unlikely to be the one to fire him.
Rosenstein may not even get the chance, however. Trump named Session’s top aide, Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, even though he has never been vetted by the Senate, as required in the Constitution. All Cabinet officers are required to get the advice and consent of the Senate, not necessarily for a new post. Rosenstein has already received that vetting for his current job. Trump also has signaled to Whitaker that he would not interfere if Whitaker fired Mueller. All of that is now the subject of a pissing match that promises to carry over to the new term.
Back in 1973, after Ruckelshaus, the firing of Cox fell to Solicitor General Robert Bork, and he finalized the “massacre,” lighting the fire for impeachment proceedings to begin. Today, the No. 3 person is the associate attorney general, a position inserted above the solicitor general post three years after the Nixon impeachment. Today’s holder of the job is Jesse Pannucio, a GOP loyalist from Florida whose personal views about Trump are unknown. He was, however, chief counsel to Rick Scott, Florida’s current governor who was declared winner of a hotly contested Senate race, ousting Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott has patterned himself after Trump in terms of style.
In other words, Pannucio likely would follow Bork’s lead and carry out Mueller’s firing, a move that almost definitely would trigger impeachment proceedings, which Pelosi would have no choice but to endorse.
Less than two weeks after Cox was fired and the special prosecutor job was abolished. The elimination of the job was rescinded, however, and Cox was replaced by Leon Jaworski, a registered Democrat who nonetheless was a Nixon supporter. Bork also reasserted the special prosecutor’s independence.
In the end, the special prosecutor submitted all of the evidence, along with witness testimony, to the grand jury whose work was considered a good road map of what happened and how, and was delivered to the Judiciary Committee for impeachment, but never made public. It sat sealed in the National Archives until recently, unavailable (even if it would have been followed) for the Newt Gingrich-prodded flash impeachment of President Bill Clinton.
Now, the road map, ”Grand Jury Report and Recommendation Concerning Transmission of Evidence to the House of Representatives” is available to the Nadler-led Judiciary Committee, should Trump ape his predecessor and carry out whatever day and time of day “massacre” he may have in mind.