The Monday Night Massacre That Wasn’t

Alan Zendell, June 23, 2022

It might have happened on January 3, 2021. When Bret Kavanaugh was being vetted for his Supreme Court seat, it was widely reported that he believed Richard Nixon was improperly driven from office in 1974. Kavanaugh said Nixon should have fought on and the Supreme Court would have kept him in office. I have no idea whether that influenced Donald Trump, but given his total lack of respect for our Constitution and his frightening mixture of arrogance and ignorance, Trump didn’t need a nudge from Kavanaugh to attempt a coup.

In Nixon’s case there were a number of critical pivot points, but the “smoking gun” was the letter written by former CIA agent and Nixon campaign security chief, James McCord to Judge John Sirica. The letter blew the Watergate cover-up out of the water, but the thing that turned the tide in public opinion was the Saturday Night Massacre.

Nixon had been forced to appoint Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox to run the Watergate investigation, but when Cox’s rulings placed the president in jeopardy, Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckleshaus, both resigned in protest a mere ten days before Nixon’s impeachment hearing was to begin. The Saturday Night Massacre was the final nail in Nixon’s political coffin.

Thursday’s hearing by the Special House Committee to Investigate the January 6, 2021 coup attempt made it crystal clear that Donald Trump faced a similar decision on January 3rd, three days before the assault on the Capitol. His Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Deputy, Richard Donaghue, and former Assistant AG Steven Engel gave riveting testimony that Trump tried to replace Rosen with an incompetent stooge, Jeffrey Clark, whose only qualification was being willing to do anything Trump asked. If appointed, he intended to make the Justice Department a political tool of the president. As a result, Rosen, Donaghue, and Engel threatened to quit and take all of DOJ leadership with them. With Nixon’s ghost casting a shadow over the Oval Office, Trump knew a Monday Night Massacre would end his political career. Instead, he decided to overthrow the government of the United States. Because even among Trump’s supporters there were people of integrity, he failed, at least for now.

That Trump is guilty of felonies that would put you or me in prison for the rest of our lives is indisputable. And as Carl Bernstein said on CNN, Trump’s crimes were far worse than Nixon’s. Tuesday’s hearing featured sworn testimony from conservative Republican election officials in Arizona and Georgia, all of whom had supported Trump’s re-election. But when he tried to pressure and intimidate them into ignoring the will of their states’ voters, their commitment to their oaths to defend the Constitution won out. Trump’s demands, unsupported accusations, and threats were all delivered on live television or publicly monitored phone calls and social media posts. They were as blatant as his comment in 2015 that he could murder someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York and still be elected.

Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffelsperger, and Georgia Election Chief Gabriel Sterling made a compelling case that Trump himself was the driver of the Big Lie and the illegal attempt to overturn to 2020 election. Combined with Thursday’s testimony, a clear picture of Trump’s complicity as well as that of his lawyer Rudy Guiliani and several extremist members of the House of Representatives was drawn. If Watergate looked like a parody of The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight, what can we say about Trump’s coup?

In terms of facts and constitutional law, Trump never stood a chance. But except for the courage and integrity of a number of Republican state officials and DOJ lawyers, the coup might still might have succeeded. Americans should feel like they dodged a very deadly bullet. Regardless of the political consequences, Trump must be indicted and tried for his crimes, and his Congressional collaborators must be removed from the House and take up residence in prison cells.

Adam Kinzinger, (R-IL,) who conducted Thursday’s testimony, warned that the scariest part of all this is that while the hearings may end the careers of Trump and the worst of his crew, our country is still in crisis. Trumpism is a disease, and Trump was patient zero. But it took so long to get him, the disease has taken root in a number of red state assemblies. And that doesn’t even address the chilling nature of the Trump-dominated Supreme Court, which today took us back to the days of gunfights in the OK Corral.

It’s our country, not theirs. It’s up to all of us to take it back in November, which reminds me. Kinzinger sounded very tough about continuing the fight — I hope he’s giving up his seat in the House with his sights set on something bigger, like 2024.

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