The first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon detailed his cover-up of the Watergate break-in, listing nine incriminating things the president and his henchmen did. Nos. 4 and 8 are particularly relevant to this moment in history, some 43 years later, though others may soon be as well: "interfering or endeavouring to interfere" with FBI, Department of Justice and congressional investigations; and "making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States."
"In all of this," the article continues, "Richard M. Nixon has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States."
Last week, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, whose agency is investigating ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives who interfered in last year's election on Trump's behalf. Trump initially claimed – both through his spokespeople and in a letter to Comey – that he acted on the recommendation of the attorney general and deputy attorney general, and that Comey's fatal error had been his handling of the Hillary Clinton email case.
A quick word about that: Comey's press conference about the Clinton case last summer and his decision in October to release a letter to Congress about the investigation were inexcusable breaches of protocol that likely cost Clinton the election and arguably warranted his termination, even if Comey's miscalculation was rooted in his desire to preserve the FBI's independence from politics. But if you think that's why Trump did it – because Comey treated his nemesis unfairly – I've got a bridge to sell you.
Indeed, the White House's transparent lie fell apart within 48 hours. And with it fell the last shred of pretense that Donald Trump has the mental or moral capacity to handle the office he holds.
First came deeply sourced reporting that the real reason behind Comey's termination was that Trump had grown enraged by Comey's refusal to both make the Russia investigation go away and back up Trump's unfounded charge that Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. Then came reports that the FBI investigation was intensifying and that Comey last week requested additional resources. Then came Trump's own admission, to NBC's Lester Holt, that "regardless of recommendation," he was going to sack Comey, a contradiction of his own letter. In that interview, Trump also admitted that since he didn't care about the Russia investigation, it didn't factor into his decision: "And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.'"
Then Trump told Holt that Comey had asked for a dinner in which Comey sought to keep his job and assured Trump that he was not under investigation. No sooner had this interview aired than Comey's camp hit back, telling the New York Times that, actually, Trump had called the meeting, demanded that Comey pledge fealty to Trump, Comey demurred and no, Comey wouldn't have given Trump any such assurances. The next morning, Trump took to – where else? – Twitter, threatening Comey, a likely witness in congressional hearings: "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"
Long story short: It's apparent that the president fired the FBI director because he deemed the FBI director insufficiently loyal and didn't like where an FBI investigation into his associates was proceeding. That looks a whole lot like obstruction of justice. And the interview with Holt isn't smoke – it's a raging forest fire.
As it was with Nixon in 1974, that is acting "in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government." And like Nixon, Trump needs to be driven from office.
At minimum, it's evident that Jeff Sessions's Department of Justice is compromised and a special prosecutor must be appointed. It remains to be seen whether Republican Sen. Richard Burr's intelligence committee – which last week, after months of foot-dragging and general indifference, subpoenaed documents from ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn – can be trusted to give this matter the diligence it deserves, or whether an independent commission is necessary.
Regardless, it's already clear that Trump has defiled the presidency. He has obstructed an investigation, lied to the American people, tried to intimidate a witness and become increasingly unhinged in public view. He has all of Nixon's paranoia and fragile ego but none of his competence. He is dangerous and unstable, a menace enabled by small-minded hacks and shameless frauds who care more about narrow partisan interests than the well-being of their country. (What do you think Republicans in Congress would be doing right now if President Hillary Clinton had fired an FBI director who was investigating her campaign for collusion with an adversarial power? Exactly.)
For the sake of the republic – even more today than in 1974 – the president must be impeached and removed from office posthaste.
The night in 1973 that Nixon orchestrated the firing of Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-in, Cox issued a statement that rings true today: "Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men is now for Congress and ultimately the American people."
Congress answered that call four decades ago, and the republic survived. It's up to the Republicans in Congress – and if they fail, the American people – to answer that call now, to save the republic once again.