Columns » Ernest Dumas

Not Whitewater

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Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.

Trump himself seemed to offer that intriguing observation on a day when he demanded that his lousy attorney general — nearly his words — order the Justice Department and the FBI to start a criminal investigation of Clinton, the private citizen, and get her locked up, and stop the probe of his Russian connections. He told kids at the ritual presidential speech to the Boy Scouts' national Jamboree that he won because she was too lazy to campaign in three states Democrats normally win.

The Donald vs. Hillary criminalization becomes more relevant as Trump each day impels his Republican Congress toward that fateful decision, whether a special counsel's investigation of the president and his men obliges it to take on that onerous burden itself, as happened with three previous presidents who faced impeachment, Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

You can be certain that his party is not about to impeach Donald Trump, much less convict and expel him from office, despite widespread private revulsion for him in the ranks — unless the special counsel someday comes up with a devastating indictment or else Trump overplays his hand and re-enacts the Saturday Night Massacre by firing his attorney general and deputy and making his loyal solicitor general, Noel Francisco, dismiss the special counsel, as Robert Bork did for Richard Nixon and to Archibald Cox. Trump demands that members of his party show him more loyalty and protect him from the law.

Politicians don't have to be reminded of the duty of party loyalty. It took the court-ordered release of Nixon's incriminating secret White House tapes to send Republican leaders to the White House to tell Nixon that he had to resign to save his supporters from having to do what all of them despaired of doing, impeaching and removing him. Unlike Trump, Nixon had never disparaged even one of his senators and congressmen.

Reigniting the popular hatred of Hillary Clinton — her poll numbers have sunk as abysmally as Trump's since January and she has done or said almost nothing — is Trump's best gamble. The New York Times, which badgered her throughout the Clinton presidency after its original Whitewater Development Corp. "exposé" in March 1992 and published the email-server and Clinton Foundation stories that Trump uses to say that she is a crook, last week compared Trump's attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller to the Clintons' attacks on the prosecutors who investigated his presidency — seven separate investigations and a dozen chief prosecutors. Actually, Clinton never derogated but one of his prosecutors, Kenneth W. Starr.

But lingering on Hillary and Bill Clinton's investigations doesn't serve Trump well. Trump was an admirer of Clinton, including his philandering, the source of Trump's own stardom as a playboy and showman. He said Clinton made one mistake, admitting that his denials of sex "with that woman" were dishonest. He should have continued to deny it no matter the evidence, Trump said. That has been Trump's own lifelong strategy: Never admit having told an untruth or to having changed your position or your mind on anything, ever.

He complains that the deputy who appointed Mueller comes from a Democratic-leaning state and that Mueller has hired some investigators who have had ties to Democrats. Trump himself has supported Democrats, including the Clintons. All three Whitewater prosecutors were Republican activists, as were all the members of their team. So were most of the other independent counsels who were appointed by a Republican judicial panel to investigate complaints lodged against people in the Clinton administration.

The Whitewater comparisons do not serve President Trump well. He complains that his private financial dealings in the tens of billions of dollars and his taxes are absolutely off-limits and investigating them grounds for him to fire Mueller. Whitewater began as an investigation of a foolish $203,000 bank loan that the newlywed Clintons and another couple obtained in 1978 to buy a few acres of remote land in Marion County for development as vacation lots. The prosecutors found nothing amiss about any of it and then pursued one thing after another, some having no connection to the Clintons, until 1998, when they learned about the president's dalliances with an intern.

Here is what should worry Trump, but doesn't: Starr and the Republican House of Representatives brought an obstruction of justice charge against Clinton because he did not come clean in a public remark and in testimony about the trysts. His purpose in being evasive, they charged, must have been that he intended to influence Monica Lewinsky and anyone else who knew about it to lie if they were ever called to testify or to talk to FBI agents. The sexual trysts themselves were not illegal, only immoral, but his mindset was to influence an investigation.

That standard for criminal conduct and removal from office leaves Donald Trump in the wilderness. His efforts to impede or stop an investigation of Russian meddling in the election are not a matter of conjecture. He did it openly and repeatedly and bragged about it. He can talk about emails, but he needs to forget Whitewater.

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