(Richard Nixon writes to Donald Trump from the afterlife.)
Dear Mr. President,
I’ve been observing the turmoil in your young administration, and with each passing day I feel we have more in common. According to the internet — the wi-fi is surprisingly good down here — some people are even calling you “Orange Nixon.”
That’s not a compliment to either of us.
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I’d like to offer some guidance that might save you from wrecking your presidency, the way I wrecked mine.
Last week you abruptly fired James Comey, the FBI director, which is something even I didn’t try during the Watergate scandal. The highest-ranking official I ever canned was the special prosecutor — some geeky Harvard law professor — and still it blew up big-time in my face.
The Democrats, and even many Republicans, accused me of trying to stop the investigation of the Watergate burglary and cover-up. That’s exactly what I was doing, of course, the same way you’re trying to stop the investigation of your Russia connections.
Hey, I don’t blame you. I know what it’s like to be hiding something sketchy when your enemies are closing in like jackals.
Mr. President, nobody disputes your authority to replace Comey. But take it from someone who’s been there, the way you handled this was a slop show.
Comey found out not from you, but from a TV bulletin during a meeting with FBI employees in California. And the dismissal letter you sent was an amateur hack job. Even a cold jerk like me wouldn’t have signed it.
You publicly demeaned a career law-enforcement official, and these people stick together. Even agents who weren’t Comey fans feel as if the FBI itself has been insulted.
Like you, Mr. President, I used to think: I’m the boss, and I’ll do whatever the hell I want.
And, like you, I’d often lay it off on somebody else. My two wingmen, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, loved playing the bad guys.
But this is one harsh lesson I learned from Watergate: It’s really stupid for a sitting president to piss off the FBI.
Profoundly, indefensibly, self-destructively stupid.
Because here’s the thing about FBI agents, Mr. President: They know lots of stuff about you.
And the stuff they don’t know, they can find out. That’s what they’re trained to do, and they’re good at it.
And all this stuff? It goes into files. And those files get copied, classified, recopied, and sent to this department or that department. The FBI is big, with lots of places to store secrets.
I remember sitting in the Oval Office thinking, “No problem. I’ll just order my attorney general to put an end to this Watergate nonsense right now.”
Me, foolishly imagining that all the shady stuff they had on me and my staff could be collected and shredded — or deleted as easily as the expletives in the transcripts of my White House tapes.
Wow, was I wrong.
My attorney general resigned in protest. Then the deputy attorney general resigned in protest. Ten months later, I resigned in disgrace.
Perhaps your attorney general will obediently do whatever you tell him. But, Mr. President, don’t make the mistake of thinking little Jeff Sessions can clean up this Russia mess for you.
He may get his mitts on a few juicy files, but he won’t be the only one who’s got them.
Like you, I was tormented by leaks to the media. Drove me nuts!
The most famous Watergate leaker was called Deep Throat. He fed damaging information about me to a pair of pain-in-the-ass reporters named Woodward and Bernstein.
They refused to reveal their source’s identity, but a few years ago it came to light. Deep Throat was Mark Felt, associate director of the FBI.
Yes, sir, that FBI. The one you just pissed off.
Felt was upset by the political meddling of my administration, and I suppose he felt some corny patriotic duty to help expose the lies, crimes and cover-up.
You might think there’s no comparison to your situation, Mr. President. But looking up from where I sit, I see striking similarities.
Plenty of people at the FBI care too much about this country to go along with another White House cover-up. All it takes is one Mark Felt to blow up a deceitful presidency.
So my humble advice is to put an experienced, well-respected person in charge of the FBI. Then stand back, let the agency do its job, and take your lumps.
Otherwise you might someday end up down here in the heat with me, comparing snarky nicknames. Personally, I think Tricky Dick is catchier than Orange Nixon.