The special prosecutor -- Archibald Cox by name --was making life difficult for President Richard Nixon.
In April of 1973, Nixon was struggling to stay on top of what was becoming known as “the Watergate scandal” - a bungled burglary/wiretapping of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel and office complex. A burglary organized by employees of Nixon’s “Committee to Re-elect the President” - aka “CREEP.” Nixon’s top aides, White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman and White House Counselor John Ehrlichman, had been fired by the president. Nixon was hoping, in vain, that the firings had stanched the political bleeding. It didn’t.
On May 1st, the day after the firings, moderate Republican Senator Charles Percy of Illinois had his resolution calling for a special prosecutor passed by the Senate. Attorney General Elliot Richardson appointed Cox, a Kennedy ally and Richardson’s old Harvard law professor. Cox, with a small army of liberal Ivy League attorneys, set to work with a vengeance. By October of 1973, Nixon had had more than enough -- and briskly and abruptly gave Richardson the order to fire Cox on a sleepy fall Saturday.
There was hell to pay. On the spot. Richardson not only refused to follow a direct presidential order, he quit. So too did his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, the number two Justice Department official. Finally the buck stopped at number three, Solicitor General Robert Bork. Somebody had to do what the president demanded, and Bork did it. Cox was out.
Learning of this, the media of that day went in to hyperdrive. In short order, the events of that evening were described with an overwrought term, the “Saturday Night Massacre.” It was called a “firestorm” - and, so it seemed in the media. Richardson and his deputy Ruckelshaus were lionized as heroes for the ages. So too was Cox. The outrage was so loud that Nixon was forced to retreat and appoint another special prosecutor. The uproar went down a few decibels and the new special prosecutor picked up where Cox had left off. By August of 1974, a smoking gun (Nixon’s own words on a tape he had ordered made of all his private conversations) was revealed and Nixon was forced to resign.
This piece of ancient political history comes to mind as word continues to leak that the FBI is engaged in a considerable investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Over in The American Spectator (where I am a contributing editor) the magazine’s founder and editor-in-chief R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. has worked his considerable sources to find hardworking FBI agents determined to get the facts, just the facts, about the Clinton e-mails and related issues. “The FBI is closing in,” writes Tyrrell.
Over in The Wall Street Journal, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey - also a former federal judge - headlines:
Clinton’s Emails: A Criminal Charge Is Justified
Hillary’s explanations look increasingly contrived as evidence of malfeasance mounts day by day.
The current news, reported in the Journal and elsewhere, is that her server contained information at the highest level of classification, known as SAP, or Special Access Program. This is a level so high that even the inspector general for the intelligence community who reported the discovery did not initially have clearance to examine it.
…The FBI’s criminal investigation of messages on the server initially related solely to Mrs. Clinton’s possibly unlawful mishandling of classified information. The investigation has now metastasized to include “the possible intersection of Clinton Foundation donations, the dispensation of State Department contracts and whether regular processes were followed” as Fox News’s Catherine Herridge reported Jan. 19, quoting an intelligence source.
Which is to say, the FBI wants to know whether those messages, combined with other evidence, show that donors to the Clinton Foundation received special consideration in their dealings with the agency Mrs. Clinton headed.
Whatever the findings from that part of the probe, intelligence-community investigators believe it is nearly certain that Mrs. Clinton’s server was hacked, possibly by the Chinese or the Russians. This raises the distinct possibility that she would be subject to blackmail in connection with those transactions and whatever else was on that server by people with hostile intent against this country.
…..The simple proposition that everyone is equal before the law suggests that Mrs. Clinton’s state of mind—whether mere knowledge of what she was doing as to mishandling classified information; or gross negligence in the case of the mishandling of information relating to national defense; or bad intent as to actual or attempted destruction of email messages; or corrupt intent as to State Department business—justifies a criminal charge of one sort or another.
But will it be brought? That depends in part on the recommendation of FBI Director James Comey, a man described by President Obama, at the time the president appointed him, as “fiercely independent.” If no recommendation to charge is forthcoming, or if such a recommendation is made but not followed by the attorney general, what happens then?
Would the public stand for it? My guess is not. However, my guess is also that we won’t be put to that test because our public officials will do their duty.
It is abundantly clear that we are approaching a Nixonesque moment with Hillary Clinton’s investigation by the FBI. FBI Director Comey has an impeccable reputation. If he says there are no grounds for charges -- well, his detailed explanation will surely be vetted by observers like Mukasey. But if word leaks that Comey has in fact recommended charges be brought against Mrs. Clinton -- and it doesn’t happen?
Will there be hell to pay from the media? Will all those media outlets that hounded Nixon after the firing of Archibald Cox -- papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, networks like ABC, CBS and NBC -- will they be whipping up a “firestorm” over Obama administration favoritism towards Hillary Clinton? Will there be resignations inside the Department of Justice? Will Director Comey or any of his agents who investigated Clinton quit ala Elliot Richardson? Will there be editorial demands that Attorney General Loretta Lynch resign?
The significant difference between 1973 and 2016 is the media environment. If you thought the media in 1973 could whip up a firestorm -- and boy, did they ever -- this is nothing compared to today’s mix of the Internet, talk radio, television and newspapers. With the Saturday Night Massacre as the standard, there will be hell to pay if Clinton is not charged or there is the slightest whiff of favortism.
The other night in the last GOP debate, the fast fading Jeb Bush had one good line when he said that if Hillary were elected she would be shuttling “between the White House and the Courthouse.” Bush is correct - unless, of course, the media lets a decision to allow Hillary to slide stand.
Suffice to say, with 1973 as a model - not to mention the treatment of General David Petraeus, who for a similar offense far less than Hillary’s has had his career ruined and a star knocked off his shoulder -- Americans will be watching.
Will the media do its job? Will they treat Hillary’s case as they once treated Nixon’s? We will see.