Scarborough Sees ‘Echoes of Watergate’ in Comey Firing

In a hyperbolic segment for MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, co-host Joe Scarborough went all in comparing President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey to the firing of U.S. Attorneys by Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate scandal. He proclaimed that in the wake of Trump’s decision, “The capital is filling with echoes of Watergate...”

The taped report aired early in the 7 a.m. ET hour and began with Scarborough ominously recalling: “The order from the commander-in-chief, fire the investigator....Richard Nixon believed the executive could overpower the institutions designed to keep his presidency in check....In the end, he destroyed the public’s confidence, hollowed the presidency, and tarnished his legacy forever.”

After setting up the historical reference, he fretted: “The question for Washington this morning, is another president using his power to stop an investigation and will Congress standby and watch while it happens?”

Scaborough described how Comey was “suddenly fired for the actions he took months ago” while still “in the heat of an investigation looking at the ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.” Turning back to the boogeyman of Nixon, the anchor explained in detail:

This firing recalls another crisis that originated in the Oval Office, the Saturday Night Massacre....A White House aide revealed the President had secret Oval Office recordings and special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, issued a subpoena seeking those tapes. Nixon refused....President Nixon waited for the weekend, a Saturday night, when he summoned attorney general Elliot Richardson ordering him to fire Cox. But Richardson had pledged not to stand in the way of the investigation....Rather than going back on his word, Richardson resigned. The job fell to his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, who stood up to the President as well....Nixon fired Ruckleshaus and found someone else who would do the deed.

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Returning to present day, Scarborough asserted: “Now another president is clinging to loyalists to carry out his orders....And Comey’s surprise firing is only the latest in a troubling pattern of law enforcement officials ripped from their investigations.”

Wrapping up the melodramatic piece, he bemoaned:

It was not so long ago that the Untied States endured through a president obsessed by his enemies, who felt looked down by the press and by elites, and believed that he had to play dirty to win an unfair game. The capital is filling with echoes of Watergate and the question this morning is whether the centuries-old system of checks and balances will swing into action.

Thanks to News Analysis Intern Kevin Baker for providing a full transcript of the May 10 report:

7:07 AM ET

SCARBOROUGH: We have Jon Meacham here and Meacham, of course, has said many times on this show that you can’t understand what’s been going on without understanding Shay’s Rebellions and the French and Indian War. But he’s also said something else.  That history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The order from the commander-in-chief, fire the investigator.

JOHN CHANCELLOR [NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, OCTOBER 20, 1973]: A great and profound crisis.

SCARBOROUGH: Richard Nixon believed the executive could overpower the institutions designed to keep his presidency in check.

TOM BROKAW: One White House source said that the President’s motive  was solely to remove of a Constitutional confrontation as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

CHANCELLOR: The President has set himself against his own attorney general and the Department of Justice.

SCARBOROUGH: In the end, he destroyed the public’s confidence, hollowed the presidency, and tarnished his legacy forever.

CHANCELLOR: Nothing like this has ever happened before.

SCARBOROUGH: The question for Washington this morning, is another president using his power to stop an investigation and will Congress standby and watch while it happens? The latest to fall, FBI Director Jim Comey, whose controversial announcements –

JAMES COMEY: There is evidence that they were extremely careless.

SCARBOROUGH: Rocked the presidential race.

PETE WILLIAMS: New emails have come to light –

SCARBOROUGH: And fed Trump’s message in the final days

DONALD TRUMP: I respect the fact that Director Comey was able to come back after what he did.

SCARBOROUGH: Suddenly fired for the actions he took months ago, purportedly, at the suggestion of Trump appointees in the Justice Department. Comey was in the heat of an investigation looking at the ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

COMEY; This work is very complex and there is no way for me to give you a timetable as to when it will be done.

SCARBOROUGH: This firing recalls another crisis that originated in the Oval Office, the Saturday Night Massacre. It began in a congressional hearing investigating the Watergate scandal stemming from Nixon’s 1972 reelection campaign. A White House aide revealed the President had secret Oval Office recordings and special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, issued a subpoena seeking those tapes. Nixon refused.  Hiding behind executive privilege, he offered up summaries of the recordings.

DOUGLAS KIKER: Yesterday Mr. Nixon ordered Cox to stop going to court to try to gain access to the tapes    

SCARBOROUGH: But Cox rejected that offer and stood by his subpoena power.

ARCHIBALD COX: I do want to say that I don’t feel defiant.

SCARBOROUGH: President Nixon waited for the weekend, a Saturday night, when he summoned attorney general Elliot Richardson ordering him to fire Cox. But Richardson had pledged not to stand in the way of the investigation.

ELLIOT RICHARDSON:  Mr. Cox will have full independence as far as I'm concerned.

SCARBOROUGH: Rather than going back on his word, Richardson resigned. The job fell to his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, who stood up to the President as well.

CHANCELLOR: Ruckelshaus refused in a moment of Constitutional drama.  

SCARBOROUGH: Nixon fired Ruckleshaus and found someone else who would do the deed.

CHANCELLOR: And the Justice Department is now headed, at the President’s direction, by the Solicitor General Robert H. Bork. Robert Bork, who carried out the President’s wishes and fired Cox and his entire staff.

SCARBOROUGH: But the President’s rushed decision only solidified public sentiment against him and forced his party to face the grim facts.

SEN. CHARLES MATHIAS: Cox and Richardson and Ruckelshaus were the people that were trying to obey the law, trying to enforce the law, and now they are the people that are forced out. And that’s – that I think is the crux of the new crisis because this brings squarely into focus, are we going be a government of law?

SCARBOROUGH: Now another president is clinging to loyalists to carry out his orders. The official notice of Comey’s termination was delivered  by the president’s former head of private security. And Comey’s surprise firing is only the latest in a troubling pattern of law enforcement officials ripped from their investigations. Sally Yates, fired for not enforcing the travel ban just after her office informed the White House that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. And New York’s top investigator, U.S. Attorney Preet  Bharara, who the President personally asked to stay on, abruptly dismissed while he was in the middle of investigations against some of Trump’s closest allies.

PREET BHARARA: The cases will proceed at pace

SCARBOROUGH: It was not so long ago that the Untied States endured through a president obsessed by his enemies, who felt looked down by the press and by elites, and believed that he had to play dirty to win an unfair game.

TRUMP: The Russia is a phony story. All you see is the Russia story! The Russia story!

SCARBOROUGH: The capital is filling with echoes of Watergate and the question this morning is whether the centuries-old system of checks and balances will swing into action.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Wow.

SCARBOROUGH: And by the way, Jon Meacham, last night the Nixon Library actually got in on the news, tweeting, “FUN FACT: President Nixon never fired the Director of the FBI #NotNixonian.”

JON MEACHAM: Now more than ever.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is the Senior News Analyst for MRC