Trump’s Inner Nixon: Is It Possible To Have a Cover Up Without An Actual Crime?

Below is my column in the Hill Newspaper on the Comey termination and comparisons to the Nixon presidency.  Those analogies deepened this weekend after the President repeated that he thinks that they should just get rid of the daily press briefings that have been such a central part of White House operations for decades.  What is most striking is how, again, the White House has engineered its own undoing.  Many people had called for Comey to be fired, particularly Democrats. However, the timing and manner of the termination has created yet another scandal for the Administration. Only 27 percent of citizens support the decision according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.  The growing credibility crisis has made the appointment of a Special Prosecutor (or even the resurrection of the Independent Counsel Act) a priority for many. While I have been a dissenting voice regarding the need for a Special Prosecutor, the Comey debacle has changed my view.  The public deserves an independent investigation into these allegations and related issues.  Perhaps people will be satisfied with the FBI investigation under a new director, but the last week has been so damaging to public confidence that the need for an independent investigation is obvious. Having said that, I am still unsure of the major crime being investigated under the facts that are currently known.  For the moment, this Administration appears intent of self-incriminating actions in the absence of an actual crime.

Here is the column:

Teddy Roosevelt once quipped, “When they call the roll in the Senate, the senators do not know whether to answer ‘present’ or ‘not guilty.’ ”

It seems this week that presidents can face the same dilemma. President Trump’s obsession with the Russian investigation has been widely taken as proof of his guilt. The night of the firing of FBI Director James Comey, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin declared that the only explanation was that the investigation was getting too close to the president.

Echoing what has become a mantra in the media, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) declared that Trump’s conduct is “nothing less than Nixonian.” Of course, the difference is that the Nixon scandal cover-up began with an actual crime. The Trump scandal appears to be a cover-up in search of a crime.

History may ultimately be faced with one of the greatest curiosities in presidential politics: how the Trump White House convinced a nation that it was hiding a crime that was never actually committed. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others have expressly stated that they have seen no evidence of collusion between the White House and the Russians in the election. The focus of the investigation remains the Russian hacking of Clinton campaign emails.

However, that is not likely a crime committed by Trump or his associates. Indeed, no one is likely to seek the indictment of Vladimir Putin for the very same offense committed by our own government in hacking countless foreign accounts, including those of our closest allies like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

440px-Michael_T_FlynnThus far, the only clear criminal allegation centers on reporting or disclosure violations by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. However, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) is rarely actually prosecuted. The Justice Department prefers administrative enforcement over criminal prosecution. The result is that there have been only seven prosecutions under FARA since 1966, when the law was revised, and only four such cases in the last decade.

Likewise, the Logan Act (which is often referenced) is a virtual dead letter. Passed in 1799, the act is widely viewed as unconstitutional. It makes it a crime for citizens to intervene in disputes or controversies between the United States and foreign governments. It has never been used to convict a single U.S. citizen and Flynn would have compelling defenses if it were suddenly resurrected. There could be false statement prosecutions to either Congress or federal investigators, but that is hardly worthy of Watergate analogies.

Background_to_Danger_film_posterYet, if there is no “noose closing around the neck” of the president, why does he constantly look like he is playing the perpetual bad guy George Raft in “Background to Danger” who, when asked what he was doing in Moscow, sneered, “We’re gonna cement Russian-American relations.” The irony is that the bizarre conduct this week could be the manifestation of paranoia rather than guilt.

Reports suggest that Trump was irate over the failure of Comey to support him on the Obama wiretapping allegations and to dismiss the allegations in the Russian controversy. Comey had been quoted by sources as saying that Trump was “outside the realm of normal” and possibly “crazy.”

Other sources allege that Trump demanded that Comey assure him of his “loyalty” as a condition of his retaining his position at the FBI. Trump himself admitted that he asked Comey to confirm that he was not a target of the FBI at a dinner where he said Comey was lobbying him to keep his job. Trump insists that Comey assured him that he was not a target of any investigation.

440px-Comey-FBI-PortraitIronically, if true, Trump finally came up with a bona fide reason to fire Comey. If Comey actually did repeatedly assure Trump that he was not a target, Comey deserved to be fired. It was a grossly improper question for the president to ask and an equally improper question for Comey to answer. Of course, the president’s account would contradict everything that we know about James Comey.

Trump actually embodies a harsher Nixon than Nixon himself — like Nixon without Checkers.  He conveys Nixon’s paranoia without the pet. He tweeted today that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Where Nixon proclaimed after an election defeat that the media would not “have Nixon to kick around anymore,” Trump seems intent on out-Nixoning Nixon. Friday, he also threatened that “maybe the best thing to do would be to cancel all future ‘press briefings.’

Of course, Trump may not have Checkers but, thus far, he also does not have a crime. He may have achieved the impossible in making a case for a special counsel without evidence of serious criminal conduct on his part.

The irony is that the only way that Trump can now clear his name would be the one thing that he seems most eager to prevent: a new independent investigation. He has succeeded in convincing millions of citizens that he is hiding his guilt. That view is not likely to be changed by conclusions of congressional investigations in the GOP controlled houses or an FBI investigation after he fired its director.

Sarah-Huckabee-Sanders-2017-05-05-cropThe White House itself has undermined any other path to exoneration for the president. This week, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stated, “We want [this investigation] to come to its conclusion. We want it to come to its conclusion with integrity. And we think that we’ve actually, by removing Director Comey, taken steps to make that happen.”

In case such statements were not suspicious enough, the White House arranged for Trump to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office on the day after the termination of Comey.

As the public debated whether Trump was a puppet of the Kremlin, the president had his picture taken in the Oval Office with a grinning Kislyak — the very Russian at the heart of the collusion allegations. Not only did the White House admit that the meeting was held at the request of Vladimir Putin, the pictures of the meeting were taken by the state-run Tass organization because the White House barred U.S. media.

An independent investigation could reveal the evidence of criminal conduct that is so conspicuously missing today. It might also find nothing but a bizarre anomaly: a president who exhibited the most incriminating conduct in history without actually committing a crime.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

232 thoughts on “Trump’s Inner Nixon: Is It Possible To Have a Cover Up Without An Actual Crime?”

  1. These globalist, American Hatin Trash, are just getting so funny Stupid! LOL.

    It’s Yuuuuuuge!

    So I’m a friend of the USA & play the WH’s lawyer:

    So Mr Comey, you have a Memo about a conversation between you & President Trump?

    Mr Comey: Yes sir I do, it’s right here.

    Me: How long have you had it?

    Mr Comey: about 3 months.

    Me: about 3 months?

    Mr Comey: Yes sir.

    Me: Are you aware that Memo & all other materials you have as FBI director are owned by the government & are a matter of the public record.

    Mr Comey: Yes Sir

    Me: Mr Comey, you as FBI-D are aware of the Congress & Senate investigations into areas of which your Memo to yourself is related to, are you not?


    I could go on & on but I don’t which to give these enemies of the USA any ideas that may help them.

    We’ll see how this real life soap turns out over time.

    1. Ex-FBI Director James Comey


      and with extreme prejudice

      obstructed justice


      withholding evidence

      in multiple federal investigations.

  2. Spicer refused to the question about whether Trump taped Comey. What a circus. Looks like Comey got his man. That is if there is any rule of law left in this country.

  3. “The New York Times reports that a memo from James Comey claimed President Trump asked the former FBI director to end the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.”

    For Trump’s critics: Absolutely true!
    For Trump’s supporters: Absolutely false!
    For rational thinkers: Who would seriously believe that request would even be asked, let alone granted?

    1. Since Trump said he recorded the meeting with Comey, now is the time to produce the recording although more than likely he lied and has no recording.

      1. Pot, meet kettle! You need to stick to retweets so you can get your own facts straight:

        “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

        Notice Trump never said “he recorded the meeting with Comey”. What you have posted would at best be called, Fake News, and at worst, LYING.

        See how that works?

  4. I expect the Democrats to go full hypocrite and with the help of their communications arm, a.k.a. The Media, cry for Special Prosecutor. What I am surprised at is the abject stupidity of Trump forces and the GOP.
    This is why Progressives are even a political force in the nation still. They respond in coordinated fashion and stay on message. The GOP should have every surrogate with the same message on every media event. That being that the Democrats want the Special Prosecutor not to uncover the truth, but to bury it for a few years.
    Schumer knows that a Special Prosecutor will take at least until 2020 or 2021 and end with whimper after starting with a bang. That gives them 2 election cycles to scream about the “President colluding with Russia, so much so that a Special Prosecutor had to be appointed because the corrupt DOJ was a part of the plot.”
    I marvel that the Republicans are even able to find their way to work in the morning.

  5. Interesting story on Drudge, about Seth Rich, the dead Democrat having contact with Wikileaks! If true, maybe this is another reason why the Democrats are raising heck about Russia— to distract from their own nefarious doings:

    WASHINGTON – It has been almost a year since Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered in the nation’s capital. There have been no solid answers about why he was killed until now.

    Rich was shot and killed last July in Northwest D.C and police have suggested the killing in the District’s Bloomingdale neighborhood was a botched robbery. However, online conspiracy theories have tied the murder to Rich’s work at the DNC.

    Just two months shy of the one-year anniversary of Rich’s death, FOX 5 has learned there is new information that could prove these theorists right.

    Rod Wheeler, a private investigator hired by the Rich family, suggests there is tangible evidence on Rich’s laptop that confirms he was communicating with WikiLeaks prior to his death.

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

    1. Squeek, Seth went rogue and paid for it. Gunning him down was a warning to anyone else who might have interfered with the DNC. It was not a “robbery” as nothing was taken. Wikileaks offered 20K to anyone who could provide information.

      1. Balderdash.

        Quit Making Stuff Up, especially after you have been smoking.

        1. I WISH I were smoking – it would make all of this insanity a lot easier to bear. Unfortunately I am allergic to the stuff!

        2. They are paid by an alt right media site to spread fake news. As Trump goes down look for this to increase as they become more and more desperate.

  6. The simplest answer may be the correct answer not to play too much with William of Ockham’s shaving gear.

    Some years ago the country dumped civil rights and the Bill of Rights, specifically the concepts and Constitutinal requirements of ‘probable cause’ and ‘due process.’ In it’s place with the hasty and ill conceived Patriot Act as a vehicle those items were replaced with something quite new called ‘suspicion of’ with no evidence required – just ‘suspicion.’

    Supposedly for use only against foreign terrorist it spread through each extensionto add ‘suspicion of supportng terrorism’ to’ suspicion of terrorism.’

    One common thread never changed. The terms are not defined. so the verbal assurance it’s only for those foriegn types holds no water. US Citizens are not excluded. What is excluded is ‘all’ civil rights.

    Therefore no warrant is needed to monitor these key strokes I am now producing.

    A more simple and more accurate translation is ‘Guilty until proven innocent’ but there is a catch. There are no requirements for Miranda-Escobedo warnngs, No rights to an attorney, a trial, a judge, a jury. and the sentence may be extended at the will of the …..well it doesn’t really say who?

    All that’s required is to add to the apprehension guidelines ‘supicion of’ something about terrorism.

    So the fallacy is the curious notion of ‘rights.’ What we objectivists call ‘a false premise’ and give the warning check your premises if the answer is wrong or seems to be wrong. One or more of them will be false.
    After 16 years we find the last extension which also added the ‘support of ‘ feature was on December 31st, 2015 signed by President Obama after approval by the Representatives, reconciliation with the Senate and a huge battle it was and this ‘suspicion’ feature was inserted as an earmark addtion to the end of the year funding bill. The Senate voted 85 to 15. in favor. Guess which group comprised the 15? All from one party and the only ones who didn’t wear the shame of the appendage ‘in name only. ‘

    1. To forestall nonsense it is not used ‘commonly’ that is until the Democrats In Name Only decided to use the language in short form …guilty until we find a reason for saying guilty.’ But it can be used against anyone in the country The old Argentine term Desparacidos comes to mind at this point as does vision of the old Cuba phrade “Paredon.” To The Wall. Made famous by Raul Castro and Ernesto Guevara.

      Not commonly used does not mean can’t be used. It’s like the draft Try and find out what your kids signature at age 18 means. Draft status changed from potential draftee to volunteer at a time and place of the government’s choosing.

      Guess which party supported both of the above 100%

    1. I had to read it three times to make sure you were really tongue in cheek joking. But common sense got a hold of my mind and I reminded myself the ACLU, one the creatures of Soros is probably one of the greatest dangers the country faces. Not the most dangerous. They after all, do not work on their own with out some guidance.

Comments are closed.