Will We See Another ‘Saturday Night Massacre?’

For all but the most resistant skeptics, the fact that Russia hacked the computer systems of groups and individuals involved in the 2016 election is accepted as a fact. Even Trump himself reluctantly admitted it. We also know that those efforts were directed in support of the candidacy of Trump. The only remaining question is whether or not Russia did so with the cooperation of the Trump campaign.

As we learned this week, there is a six agency task force investigating that question by following the money to determine the financial arrangements involved – especially in regards to payment of the hackers. The New York Times now reports that the same task force is also investigating Russian communications with Trump associates.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said…

Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative.

In many ways this investigation mirrors the famous question Sen. Howard Baker asked during the Watergate hearings. The primary issue is “What did Trump know and when did he know it?” Collusion with a foreign adversary to influence the outcome of the presidential election would certainly meet the standard of a high crime or misdemeanor.

So as Trump prepares to take the oath of office, the NYT reports this:

Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts.

In other words, after 12 noon today, the people conducting this investigation will work for the target of the investigation. He could bring the whole thing to a halt – which could lead to a series of resignations.

Steve Benen ends his reporting on this by saying that “We’re in uncharted waters.” Given that the NYT article is breaking news on the day of the inauguration of a president under investigation, that is true. But the whole thing could unfold in ways that are similar to what is often referred to as the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate investigation when Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, leading to the resignation of the Attorney General.

One would think that Trump would tread carefully, knowing this history. But throughout both the campaign and the transition, he has done nothing but react to this whole controversy by doing/saying things that reinforce the allegations. On the other hand, if Trump and his campaign were not involved with Russian attempts to influence the election, they would have nothing to fear from such an investigation – which would have the possibility of exonerating him. Which will it be Mr. Trump?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .