Sen. Angus King, I-Me., leaves the senate luncheons in the Capitol, September 9, 2014.
Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) does not have a reputation as a partisan bomb-thrower. He’s one of only two independents in Congress, and he’s widely seen as someone with a moderate, even-keeled temperament.
And with this in mind, when CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked the Maine senator yesterday whether he believes Donald Trump may soon face impeachment proceedings, King’s answer raised more than a few eyebrows.
“Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense. And I say it with sadness and reluctance. This is not something that I’ve advocated for. The word [impeachment] has not passed my lips in this whole tumultuous three or more months.
“But if indeed the president tried to tell the director of the FBI, who worked for him, that he should drop an investigation – whether it was Michael Flynn or some investigation that had nothing to do with Russia or politics or the election – that’s a very serious matter.”
Soon after, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s voted with Trump more than 92% of time this year, told an International Republican Institute, “I think we’ve seen this movie before. I think it’s reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale.”
Part of the trouble for the Trump White House isn’t just the “size and scale” of Watergate, but the eerie similarities.
Vox’ Dylan Matthews noted some of the history yesterday, explaining that the real trouble for Richard Nixon – the point at which his support collapsed and his presidency entered a tailspin – came when evidence emerged that he tried to derail the investigation into the scandal.
[T]he “smoking gun” that eventually forced Nixon out of office, was that Nixon ordered his chief of staff to get the CIA to force the FBI to abandon its investigation into the break-in. That was enough.
Some Republicans had stood by Nixon through his firing of the independent counsel investigating the matter, through multiple aides and Cabinet officials resigning, through the White House’s effort to resist subpoenas for documents and tapes. But when the “smoking gun” White House tape was released on August 5, 1974, Nixon’s remaining support from Republicans evaporated.
The tape showed then-White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman discussing the plan with Nixon: they’d get the CIA to tell the director of the FBI to “to stay the hell out” the Watergate investigation.
When the recording of this emerged, congressional GOP leaders told the then-president his efforts to obstruct justice were a bridge too far for Republican lawmakers. Nixon resigned the next day.
The fact that Trump practically cribbed from Nixon’s script creates an exceedingly awkward dynamic for the contemporary Republican Party.