Echoes of Watergate have reverberated throughout the Trump Russia investigation for some time. Now it’s October, 2017 and that puts one in mind of October of 1973. If your recollection needs refreshing, Elliot Richardson was Attorney General. Richard Nixon asked Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused because Cox could only be removed “for cause” i.e., gross improprieties or malfeasance, of which there was no evidence. So Richardson refused to obey Nixon’s edict and resigned. The task of firing Cox then fell to Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who likewise refused and resigned. Acting Attorney General Robert Bork finally wrote the letter firing Cox and the Saturday Night Massacre was complete.
Now, we have another Saturday night in October. News of yet another special prosecutor, this time Robert Mueller, indicating that an indictment or indictments would be forthcoming on Monday, plus we have had news stories of Trump interviewing people for the position of U.S. Attorney, which is not done by a president. And Friday there was the abrupt and totally unexpected resignation of Dana Boente as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Boente had been acting assistant attorney general for the National Security Division of the Department of Justice,
Rachel Maddow interviewed former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller Friday night and Miller reported that Boente was looking forward to his successor being confirmed at the Department of Justice, so that he could return to his old post as U.S. Attorney. Miller told Maddow that Boente’s abrupt resignation, “was not a resignation that was completely of his own volition.” If Trump did force Boente out, what may have been his rationale? Newsweek:
With the resignation of Dana Boente on Friday as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, President Donald Trump has an opportunity to replace another Obama-era holdover in the Department of Justice line of succession. If Trump demands that the department fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and if enough officials resign or get fired rather than carry out his order, the decision to do so could fall to Boente’s successor.
As Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump has been interviewing candidates for some of the 93 open U.S. attorney positions. Democratic lawmakers and legal analysts have claimed his involvement in that process is inappropriate. But the Eastern District of Virginia role is especially important, thanks to an executive order that Trump signed in March.
The order altered the line of succession at the top of the Justice Department. The order includes three U.S. attorneys, meaning that making departmental decisions such as whether to fire Mueller could fall on one of them.
This is a possible scenario. Newsweek spoke with a former U.S. attorney who demanded anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic. “Nobody really wants to fire Mueller,” the former U.S. attorney said. “Everybody’s recognized, in those positions, that whatever you’re doing could be Watergate. It’s got the potential to be historic. All these people want to be on the right side of history.”