During Saturday's edition of AM Joy, host Joy Reid opened her show with video footage from a 1972 edition of NBC Nightly News announcing that the Democratic National Committee had filed a lawsuit against the Committee for the Re-Election of the President and five men who had broken into the Democratic National Committee's Headquarters at the Watergate Complex.
Throughout the first fifteen minutes of the show, Reid and her guests did their best to draw parallels between the scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon and the Trump-Russia probe that the left hopes will ultimately derail the Trump Presidency.
After playing the clip, Reid offered her analysis: “In 1972, the DNC sued the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, aka CREEP, the fundraising arm of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign at the center of the Watergate Scandal. The campaign eventually settled with the Democrats for $750,000 on the very day Richard Nixon left office. Fast forward to today and the Democrats are suing over another break-in, alleging that the Trump campaign, Wikileaks, and Russia conspired to disrupt the 2016 election by hacking the DNC’s e-mails.”
After mocking the President for incorrectly spelling “special counsel,” Reid brought in panelists, including MSNBC legal analyst Paul Butler and former Federal Prosecutor Seema Iyer. She asked former Watergate prosecutor Nick Ackerman: “Are we taking the Watergate analogies too far or are we on the right track?”
Ackerman argued that she was on the right track, referring to the Russian interference in the 2016 election as a “high-tech Watergate” and made sure to mention that Russian meddling in the 2016 election “was all done for the purpose of getting Donald Trump elected.”
Reid then talked to fellow former Watergate attorney Jill Wine-Banks, who felt a sense of nostalgia: “I loved hearing the audio of that because it did bring back a lot of memories.” She then scolded congressional Republicans for demanding access to the Comey memos, arguing that “it’s very dangerous to give out an ongoing investigation’s documents.”
It did not take long for Reid to delve into fantasy-land, bringing up the “constant threat” of another Saturday Night Massacre, where President Trump would order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, just as President Nixon ordered Justice Department officials to fire Special Counsel Archibald Cox. Iyer reminded Reid not to get ahead of herself, stressing that “the Mueller investigation is still not at Obstruction of Justice or collusion.”
As the far-reaching, never-ending Russia probe approaches its one-year anniversary, the media will continue to fantasize about President Trump facing the same fate as Richard Nixon; even if it means sloppy journalism and jumping to conclusions as long as it results in the President's removal from office
MSNBC's AM Joy
JOHN CHANCELLOR: Lawrence O’Brien, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, today filed suit for $1 million against the Committee for the Re-election of the President and against five men arrested early Saturday who were charged with breaking into the party’s national headquarters at the Watergate in Washington.
JOY REID: Good morning and welcome to “AM Joy.” In 1972, the DNC sued the Committee for the Re-Election of the President, aka CREEP, the fundraising arm of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign at the center of the Watergate Scandal. The campaign eventually settled with the Democrats for $750,000 on the very day Richard Nixon left office. Fast forward to today and the Democrats are suing over another break-in, alleging that the Trump campaign, Wikileaks, and Russia conspired to disrupt the 2016 election by hacking the DNC’s e-mails. Late on Friday, Trump fired back, threatening to counter-sue the DNC and it’s former chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who Trump seems to think is named Wendy. The lawsuit comes as a group of House Republicans have formed a veritable committee to protect the President by attacking fired FBI Director James Comey. The Republican Chairs of several key committees forced the DOJ to release memos written by Comey about his interactions with Trump. The memos were promptly leaked to the press. Well, this attempt to discredit Comey didn’t quite work out the way the Republicans thought. The memos are consistent with Comey’s testimony to the Senate and with his book, adding only a few more unflattering details to his portrait of Trump.
RACHEL MADDOW: He told you that he’d had a personal conversation with President Putin about hookers?
JAMES COMEY: Yes.
MADDOW: Did you believe him or did you think he was speaking hyperbolically?
COMEY: He didn’t seem to be speaking hyperbolically.
REID: Alrighty then. Well, instead of eating crow, the Committee to Protect the President claimed vindication, saying “the memos show Former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened.” Trump, meanwhile, wants us to think that the memos undermine Robert Mueller’s investigation entirely, tweeting “James Comey illegally leaked classified documents to the press, in order to generate a Special Council?” C-O-U-N-C-I-L rather than C-O-U-N-S-E-L. Yes, Twitter did notice that. “Therefore, the Special Counsel was established based on an illegal act? Really, does everybody know what that means?” Joining me now, former Watergate Prosecutor Nick Ackerman, Former Federal Prosecutor Seema Iyer, MSNBC Legal Analyst Paul Butler, and Former Watergate Assistant Special Prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks. Thank you all for being here. Now, I’m going to come to you first on this because this sort of these analogies to Watergate keep piling up for Donald Trump. Now you have what I am calling the Committee to Protect the President, this group of Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, particularly on the House Intel Committee, who are doing pretty much whatever it takes to protect Donald Trump and wanting these memos released, it didn’t work out. But there’s a Vox article that talks about Donald Trump actually pressuring the Attorney General to fire two FBI agents named Strzok and Page who were tweeting things he didn’t like, tweeting things negative about him and to feed information to these allies in the House. Here’s a quote: “The president also pressed his attorney general and FBI Director to work more aggressively to uncover derogatory information within the FBI’s files, then turn over to Congressional Republicans working to discredit the two FBI officials, according to the same sources.” In the same article, Trump did this, knowing that Page could actually be a witness against him. Are we taking the Watergate analogies too far or are we on the right track?
NICK ACKERMAN: No, I think you’re totally on the right track. I mean, what you have here is a high-tech Watergate break-in, for starters. I mean, instead of bringing a bunch of guys up from Miami to break into the Watergate headquarters, the Democratic headquarters, they did it with the Russians, who did it electronically this time, making it a lot more difficult to uncover. It’s not like they could put tape on the door and a police officer would walk in and find a bunch of burglars. This made it very hard to detect in the first instance but it also made it much more insidious in the sense that they were able to take a lot more, and you could see what they did with it. And it was all done for the purpose of getting Donald Trump elected.
ACKERMAN: So, absolutely. This is like, just, go ahead 45 years and it’s just now met up with the technology of what we’re looking at here.
REID: Yeah. High-tech Watergate.
ACKERMAN: Right. Even, even with respect to the other pieces of it, using Facebook and the, this micro-targeting of voters in specific districts. I mean, before, they were trying to figure out how to go around to voters or keep the vote suppressed. They did that in New Hampshire when Nixon was running and he had opposition with McCloskey. They had Roger Stone go up there and donate money in the name of the Young Socialists in order to make Republicans turn against McCloskey. Now, they were able to do it with electronics, with 60 million Facebook users that they were able to take and target Hillary Clinton voters to keep them from voting.
REID: And Roger Stone appears again, apparently having to (inaudible). Jill, there’s also the other couple of Watergate parallels, of course, the potential lawsuit here, or the lawsuit that’s actually been filed by the Democrats against the Nixon campaign. At that time, what did that yield and did it interfere at all with the official investigation of Nixon?
JILL WINE-BANKS: It didn’t. I loved hearing the audio of that because it did bring back a lot of memories. But it didn’t interfere. We worked very successfully, both with Congress and weren’t involved in any way in the civil suit. Civil suits present some problems now for the Trump Administration and for Cohen because it can lead to discovery, depositions, what they’re, things they’re trying very much to avoid, by dropping in the case of Cohen, he’s dropped at least one lawsuit but the Stormy Daniels case isn’t going away and that could lead to discovery, which could be a problem. I’d say the more difficult challenge was Congress demanding to get the investigative documents, the Comey memos, which had absolutely no purpose if they had really thought it through. I don’t know what they thought they were going to get. There is a theory that they thought they might be able to show that there, some of them were classified and had been leaked and that he lied about classified material, which doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems to have totally boomeranged on them, to totally have backfired, and it would have been an important thing for the Department of Justice to stand up to Congress and say we have a protocol of not giving out ongoing investigative documents for a reason. We don’t want to interfere with the investigation that’s going on by revealing this. Other witnesses will now be able to conform their testimony because they now know, for example, what was said about the Reince Priebus conversation. There are things that could change in the investigation. So, it’s very dangerous to give out an ongoing investigation’s documents. It was the wrong thing to do. The Department has a policy for a reason.
REID: Yeah. And when you’re talking about the Reince Priebus conversation, for those who are not up on the full Comey memos and what’s in them, that is a conversation in which Comey apparently asks, is asked by Reince, is this a private conversation, I replied that it was. He said that he wanted to ask me a question, if he decided it was appropriate to answer, then asked “do you have a FISA order on Michael Flynn,” a question that might not have been appropriate to ask. I want to come back, just for a second, with you, Paul Butler, to this lawsuit because I can envision a lawsuit in which the Democratic Party then says “We would like to depose Julian Assange,” who is of course holed up in an embassy, in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. We would like to depose everyone who was in that Trump Tower meeting. That’s Jared Kushner, that’s Paul Manafort, that’s Donald Trump Jr. Is that possible that that lawsuit could yield that kind of discovery?
PAUL BUTLER: Absolutely. So there’s a different standard, first of all, in criminal cases than civil cases. There’s a lower standard of proof. So, civil cases are take longer, especially when there’s an ongoing criminal investigation. But at some point you get discovery, which means that all of the people who have relevant information are forced to come in and testify under oath what they know. Now, interestingly, President Trump is not named in this lawsuit but all of the other relevant players are, and so we know that the Watergate suit was decided the same day that the stuff went down in Watergate. So again, it takes a long time. I think we’ll eventually learn more from Mueller sooner than we’ll learn from this civil lawsuit.
REID: Yeah, let’s go back to Mueller for a second, Seema, with you because the other sort of parallel to Watergate is this constant threat of a sort of Saturday Night Massacre, that Donald Trump will attempt to fire Rod Rosenstein or fire all the way down to the guy who mops the floors to quote somebody, rather, that was in the news, until he gets to somebody who will end the, end the Mueller investigation, fire Mueller. Jeff Sessions, according to The Washington Post, has threatened to quit, or at least he has said that it could cause him, put him in a position where he’d have to resign if Rosenstein were to be fired. What do you make of that?
SEEMA IYER: I think Jeff Sessions does not want to quit but I think it’s reasonable because every Friday night, this is, so maybe not a Saturday Night massacre but definitely a Friday Night massacre because this is what happens every Friday night. But at this point, I think it’s too early to tell. But listen, I think the important thing here is the Mueller investigation is still not at Obstruction of Justice or collusion, so this whole Democratic Committee filing a lawsuit seems like it’s being rushed, number one, and number two, and I’m no political expert here and you know that, but don’t the Democrats, shouldn’t they be spending the money on the midterm elections instead of this frivolous lawsuit?
BUTLER: Trump is no fan of Sessions anyway, so wouldn’t Trump say, okay, I’ll fire Rosenstein, make my day, Sessions, resign. Then I get two for the price of one.
REID: And I know you’re still sticking to your no collusion, your no collusion theory.
IYER: And Joy, please, let me just tell you one thing. Savannah Guthrie interviewed James Comey this week on “The Today Show,” and she asked him are we at collusion or obstruction of justice and he even pointed out that we’re still not able to…
REID: We don’t know what Mueller has found yet.
IYER: But no, we can’t, we can’t, we can’t articulate the intent, the corrupt intent.
REID: But what do you think that he’s investigating?
IYER: Investigating, yes, he’s investigating it. But if James Comey isn’t at obstruction, how can we be?
REID: James Comey’s not part of the investigation.
ACKERMAN: Well, first of all, James Comey has set up the facts, he hasn’t come to conclusions. The Republicans have got it all wrong, totally backwards. It’s not what James Comey thought in his head. It’s what Donald Trump thought in his head, what his intent was.
IYER: Right. That’s exactly my point.
ACKERMAN: Did he have a corrupt intent to obstruct and drop the proceedings? That’s precisely what he admitted to Lester Holt.
REID: Let’s go through a couple of other things. So what happened to the, the Comey memo comes out, right? And now we’ve got all these memos here. These are contemporaneous notes that he took after talking to Donald Trump, with Donald Trump asking about the “pee tape” repeatedly, asking all of these questions, and also saying “Can you please see your way to letting Michael Flynn go?” Andrew McCabe, who’s one of the, he told three people afterwards what happened in those one-on-one meetings with Trump. He told Andrew McCabe, who has been fired and had his pension stripped, he told James Baker, who was the FBI General Counsel, who has been reassigned, and he told James Rybicki, Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff who resigned. One more little piece of evidence and this is a timeline of events leading to Jim Comey being fired. January 6, Comey briefs Trump on the dossier, he gets asked all these questions. Trump is inaugurated, then on the 20th. Six days later, Sally Yates, who’s the Acting Attorney General, tells the White House that Michael Flynn could be compromised. Trump then has dinner with Comey the next night. The 30th, Yates is fired. Then Flynn resigns. Then Trump asks Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Then Trump calls Comey and says “can you please lift the cloud” over him by ending the investigation. Then Comey doesn’t do it, he gets fired. Then Trump tells the Russians he fired Comey to ease the pressure on himself.
BUTLER: First of all, whoever ends up impeaching Trump, that’s their opening statement. And if, ultimately, if there’s a criminal case, that’s the opening statement. That’s obstruction of justice. Now, again, I’ve always said, unless there’s evidence of collusion, that is conspiracy to defraud the United States, I don’t think Mueller just brings the case of obstruction but Joy, you just laid out the compelling evidence that’s corroborated. I have to say I think collusion is coming because when Comey had that conversation with Priebus, Priebus, Comey told Priebus that the allegations in the dossier had been substantiated. The dossier is about collusion.