The report that President Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to end an active investigation of Michael Flynn, who had just resigned his position as Trump’s National Security Adviser, has become an existential threat to his presidency. Comey reportedly wrote a contemporaneous memo detailing his February conversation with President Trump.
During an interview on Tuesday night, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) compared Trump’s situation to the Watergate scandal that sunk President Nixon.
“I think it’s reaching the point where it’s of Watergate size and scale, and a couple of other scandals we’ve seen,” McCain said.
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) May 17, 2017
Nixon White House Counsel John Dean concurs.
— John Dean (@JohnWDean) May 17, 2017
Also in agreement: former Nixon adviser David Gergen, who now works as a CNN analyist. “I must say, I was in the Nixon administration as you know and I thought after watching the Clinton impeachment I thought I’d never seen another one, But I think we’re in impeachment territory for the first time,” Gergen said.
“I think that the obstruction of justice was the number one charge against Nixon that brought him down,” Gergen continued. “I’m a lapsed lawyer, I can not tell you if it meets all of the legal definitions, but I can tell you from a lay point of view, it looks like [Trump] was trying to impede the investigation, he was using his power to do that, and when James Comey didn’t go along with him, he wasn’t his boy, he fired him, which I think is also relevant to the question of what he was trying to do.”
CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is on the same page. During an appearance on Wolf Blitzer’s show, Toobin said, “Telling the FBI director to close down an investigation of your senior campaign adviser for his activities during your campaign for president, if that’s true, that is obstruction of justice… I don’t know how anyone can see this comment as anything but obstruction of justice.”
This position is also, slowly, being embraced by members of Congress.
During a CNN appearance, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said he thinks Comey’s account of Trump’s conduct, if true, gets “very close to the legal definition of obstruction of justice.”
Asked whether that means Trump could be impeached, King replied, “Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense, and I say it with sadness and reluctance.”
King walked that back a bit on Wednesday morning, saying on MSNBC that he’s “not there yet” when asked if he wants Trump impeached.
“I think we’ve got a long way to go,” he added. “We’ve got to take a deep breath. We really need the facts. We need to see the memos. We don’t even have Jim Comey authenticating the memo. We have the White House denying the memo.”
Impeachment proceedings would happen in the House. Trump’s removal from office would be contingent on his conviction in the Senate.
Earlier this week, ThinkProgress spoke with a House Democrat, Rep. Al Green (TX), who believes Trump’s handling of the Comey affair was sufficient for impeachment in its own right. That was before the New York Times’ bombshell about the Comey memo.
The chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), had up until Tuesday night been unwilling to conduct serious oversight of Trump. The Comey memo appears to have changed that.
.@GOPoversight is going to get the Comey memo, if it exists. I need to see it sooner rather than later. I have my subpoena pen ready.
— Jason Chaffetz (@jasoninthehouse) May 16, 2017
A short time after Chaffetz posted that tweet, the Oversight Committee account posted a letter Chaffetz authored to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe asking the FBI to turn over “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President” by May 24.
.@jasoninthehouse requests any and all communications between Former FBI Director Comey and President Trump.
— Oversight Committee (@GOPoversight) May 17, 2017
The letter, significantly, says the reported memo raises questions “as to whether the President attempted to influence or impede” the FBI’s investigation of Flynn.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) has voted in lockstep with Trump. Even he expressed concern about Trump possibly obstructing justice on Wednesday morning.
GOP Rep Tom Cole (OK) to me: "While I'm no Comey fan, I won't defend anyone who obstructs justice. time for Comey to appear before Congress"
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) May 17, 2017
Meanwhile, Republican members of Congress are reportedly refusing to go on TV and defend Trump.
Green plans to call for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor on Wednesday. This won’t happen unless, eventually, a substantial number of Republicans agree. None are there yet. For that matter, neither are prominent liberals like Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
But on Wednesday morning, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) became the second House Republican to suggest a dedicated special prosecutor is needed to probe Trump’s connections with Russia.
GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger now calling for an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate Trump W.H. https://t.co/EvFT2QVozK
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 17, 2017
Like Rep. Cole, Kinzinger has voted with Trump 100 percent of the time.
New polling released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found that a plurality of Americans want Trump impeached.
“Only 40 percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing to 54 percent who disapprove,” PPP writes. “For the first time we find more voters (48 percent) in support of impeaching Trump than there are (41 percent) opposed to the idea. Only 43 percent think Trump is actually going to end up serving his full term as President, while 45 percent think he won’t, and 12 percent aren’t sure one way or the other.”
Notably, PPP’s survey was conducted before news broke about Trump’s unusual decision to share highly classified and sensitive counterterrorism intelligence with Russian officials amid the active investigation of his campaign’s ties with Russia. The results were released hours ahead of the Times’ bombshell about the Comey memo.
UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, a House Republican used the I-word while speaking with reporters.
Amash tells reporters that if Comey memo allegations are true, it's grounds for impeachment. Says he trusts Comey more than Trump.
— Katie Bo Williams (@KatieBoWill) May 17, 2017
UPDATE II: On Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) signaled she’s open to the possibility an independent investigation will be needed to get to the bottom of Trump’s connections with Russia.
Like many Alaskans, I’m concerned about the continuous and often conflicting reports about President Trump, the FBI and Russia. pic.twitter.com/XENI02GdBT
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) May 17, 2017