Appearing on CNN’s New Day Thursday, CNN Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley echoed Jerry Nadler’s rhetoric, declaring that “we’re hovering on a Constitutional crisis” as a result of the standoff between House Democrats and Attorney General Bill Barr. Brinkley went so far as to argue that the election of President Trump was a “constitutional crisis” in and of itself while both Berman and Brinkley could not resist the urge to invoke Watergate comparisons.
The first part of the discussion basically recycled the talking points used by Democrats and the liberal media, specifically by accusing Barr of “showing contempt for Congress” and stressing the necessity that the branches of government “get along.” Brinkley took the conversation about the “Constitutional crisis” a step further, arguing that “The Mueller report is, to me, very unique because some people would argue we’ve been in a Constitutional crisis since Donald Trump was elected President. There’s been this sort of fear because of the Russia interference.”
Brinkley described the 2020 Presidential election as a “guardrail,” implying that the only way to end the “constitutional crisis” is to vote President Trump out of office.
Eventually, Berman asked Brinkley to compare the current “constitutional crisis” to the Watergate scandal. The CNN host complained that “one of the things missing so far is Howard Baker,” a “prominent Republican...saying enough.” Berman acknowledged that “you have Richard Burr, who’s Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he wants to hear from Donald Trump Jr.” before saying “he’s not exactly Howard Baker.”
Brinkley agreed: “You need a real ardent conservative...somebody who is fiercely loyal to Donald Trump break the way that Barry Goldwater broke during the Nixon years.” After complaining that “we don’t see a Republican Party behaving that way right now,” Brinkley reminisced about how “when McCain was alive and you had Lindsey Graham…they were this check.”
Brinkley proceeded to contrast the good old days with the current situation: “That’s broken up. Lindsey Graham’s running for reelection right now and he is the biggest Trump rubberstamp there is out there.” Brinkley described the lack of deflections from President Trump within the Republican Party as “where this, right now, deviates from Watergate.”
In addition to the absence of a Howard Baker-like figure, Brinkley had to note another key difference between the two cases: “the tapes, the tapes, the tapes.” Brinkley pointed out that despite the Democrats’ best attempts to turn the Trump-Russia probe into Watergate 2.0, “There’s no smoking gun evidence on the President the way the tapes were.”
The conversation concluded with Berman asking Brinkley his thoughts on the prospect of impeachment. Brinkley argued that an argument for impeachment existed and expressed hope that “by filming impeachment, new things might be...revealed in the way they were in Watergate.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Thursday’s edition of New Day is below. Click “expand” to read more.
New Day With Alisyn Camerota and John Berman
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): There could be no higher stakes than this attempt to, to arrogate all power to the Executive Branch away from the…from Congress and more important, away from the American people. We’ve talked for a long time about approaching a Constitutional crisis. We are now in it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BERMAN: That is the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just moments after his committee voted to hold the Attorney General in contempt for refusing to hand over the full Mueller report. Joining me now is CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. Doug, thanks so much for being with us.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY: Thank you.
BERMAN: Are we in a Constitutional crisis?
BRINKLEY: We’re hovering on a Constitutional crisis. I don’t know if we’re in the middle of one right now. Hovering in the sense that people are starting to wonder whether the executive and legislative Branches are broken. You know, part of our Constitutional mandate is that these branches get along in some way and right now, we’re seeing a big power play by the White House to treat Congress as a non-entity. To have an Attorney General like Bill Barr come…come and act so condescending and arrogant and cold-shouldered to the Congressional Judiciary Committee was stunning because he really was visually showing contempt for Congress as a institution.
BERMAN: You know, we’re in some kind of tautological discussion right now about what makes a crisis a crisis. I suppose in this case, it’s if there is no clear resolution to a conflict that exists. You have the executive and the legislative branch of our government in clear conflict with no resolution.
BRINKLEY: Yeah. And, you know, in 1930s, there are examples that Congress could have somebody arrested if they didn’t respond to a subpoena. That’s not going to happen. You know, we…everybody has been talking about Eric Holder and Fast and Furious under Barack Obama because he was held in contempt and kind of got forgotten about. He was about to run for President in 2020; it didn’t really dent him. But Barr is different. There’s something going on here that the idea that he was supposed to be a referee and instead is, is coming out not just as the lawyer for the President, which can be expected. But the way that he’s seeming to want to squash and disregard Congress, that this is the head of our Justice Department? Now we are… the, the reason we’re using the term “Constitutional crisis” is we’re…each branch of government is…
BRINKLEY: …firing at each other.
BERMAN: Are there any guideposts from the founding fathers in the Constitution about what’s supposed to happen here? They don’t write extensively or at all, frankly, about Congressional committees doing investigations.
BRINKLEY: They do not. And, you know, you could…somebody could go online and Google now. There’s a whole list of different times we’ve had these subpoenas not being followed and the like. The Mueller report is, to me, very unique because some people would argue we’ve been in a Constitutional crisis since Donald Trump was elected President. There’s been this sort of fear because of the Russia interference. We haven’t quite seen something like that; a foreign power interfering with our, our presidential election on this huge way. But where does this head? We don’t know. There are no guardrails right now except the guardrail is 2020. We’re running into a Presidential election and the steam’s going to go out at some point because of Iowa, and New Hampshire, South Carolina, and going smack into…
BERMAN: There are also courts. There’s also that third branch, which…which will get to weigh in. And there’s uncertainty there. The only certainty is that it will take a very, very long time. Again, from an historical perspective here…let’s go back to Watergate. Compare this to Watergate. One of the things missing so far is Howard Baker; is the idea of a prominent Republican, at some point…I mean, granted, I know Baker didn’t do this in ‘72 or ’73…it was late in ’74…but saying enough? Now, you have Richard Burr, who’s Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying he wants to hear from Donald Trump, Jr. That’s not exactly Howard Baker.
BRINKLEY: No, it’s not Howard Baker. And even if we said Burr is the new Howard Baker, you need more than that. You need a real ardent conservative…somebody who’s fiercely loyal to Donald Trump break the way that Barry Goldwater broke during the Nixon years and went to Nixon and said you lied to the American people, you lied to me. We don’t see a Republican Party behaving that way right now. We don’t see that gang of eight Senators. It was often thought that when McCain was alive and you had Lindsey Graham that they were this check. Well, that’s broken up. Lindsey Graham’s running for reelection right now and he is the biggest Trump rubberstamp there is out there. So there…that’s where this, right now, deviates from Watergate. But mainly, the tapes, the tapes, the tapes.
BRINKLEY: There’s no smoking gun evidence on the President the way the tapes were. Without the President being…you know, having his fingerprints all over a crime, this is going to be just… you know, if…if they bring out a new Mueller report and some still redacted, we want to see more. The bar will keep getting moved.
BERMAN: What’s your view of impeachment? Again, from an historical perspective, what did the founders intend? Was it supposed to be such a high bar that it could never be used or is it an investigative tool? Is it something that should be available to Congress?
BRINKLEY: It should be available to Congress. It’s something you don’t want on your legacy in history. You don’t want the “I” tattooed to your chest. Some people say well, Bill Clinton got impeached but he still did well. Ask Bill Clinton how it felt to be impeached. It’s humiliating, it hurts his legacy now. He survived it, but it did political damage. The argument of impeaching Donald Trump right now by Congress would be that look, the evidence is there…it is contempt. They’re not answering subpoenas. Let’s move with impeachment and not worry about the political equation that the Senate’s not there because by filming impeachment proceedings, new things might be…be revealed in the way they were in Watergate. But the tapes may be once every…you know, imagine that kind of evidence…
BRINKLEY: …being suddenly coughed up is quite remote.
BERMAN: Doug Brinkley, great to have you here with us. Thanks so much.