A Special Prosecutor is a Bad Idea

The idea of appointing a special prosecutor to look into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russia is a bad idea because special prosecutors are either ineffective or led astray, as the history of them attests. It was not Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox that brought Nixon down. It was the Senate Select Committee that had Alexander Butterfield admit before it that Nixon had taped his Oval Office conversations and it was Judge Sirica who got the Watergate burglars to break their silence about what had been going on if they were not to face what might be considered overly harsh sentences were it not for Sirica’s motive to get to the bottom of Watergate. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Special Prosecutor Jaworski’s subpoena of the tapes, but the House Judiciary Committee was about to rule favorably on impeachment anyway, even without the tapes, which were just the final straw, adding some more Republican votes to the decision.

Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor in the Iran Contra case, fared even worse. He was not able to get any convictions of the major figures, neither President Reagan, nor Vice President Bush (who had claimed to be out of the room on a bathroom break at a meeting where Iran Contra was discussed) nor Casper Weinberger, the Defense Secretary, except for relatively minor figures like Oliver North, who had masterminded the plot from the National Security Council, even though President Reagan had clearly violated the Constitution when he traded arms for hostages because he was circumventing the Constitutional rule, a basic principle of a republican government, that only the legislative branch can allocate funds, and, in this case, there were clearly legislated statutes preventing the arming of the Contras. But even with unlimited time and a hefty budget and a clear focus from which he was not distracted by other cases, he couldn’t get the job done. And it well may be that Reagan engineered the deal only with the help of his CIA Director, William Casey, avoiding all the other responsible people who were tending him.

And the most recent special prosecutor of note, Kenneth Starr, turned a years long investigation of Bill Clinton’s involvement in an Arkansas land deal, Whitewater, into an investigation into the President’s sex life, and only was able to do that, as best I can piece it together, because he got leaked to him the private lawsuit testimony concerning Paula Jones, and so got to say that Clinton lied about having sex with Monica Lewinsky, when in fact, according to the Arkansas usage of the term, Clinton did not have sex with her because he was only out for his own pleasure.

We don’t need any more of such investigations. So what is to be done? The FBI investigation is ongoing and not likely to be thwarted by White House action. Any attempt to interfere with its budget or its independance is likely to come to nought and no one who becomes the new FBI director, someone who has to be confirmed by the Senate, will undercut the pledge he or she will likely be asked to make during his confirmation hearing that he will not interfere with the investigation. Moreover, the House and the Senate committees doing their work are likely to proceed for no other reason than to shield congresspeople from charges of a cover-up when they run for reelection.

Most of all, the cleanest way to handle the matter of the connection between the Trump campaign and the Russians is to allow the matter to continue to garner attention for another year or so-- it is not a flash in the pan story-- and then let the American people decide whether the story, at the time of the midterm elections, is just too fishy to let go, and so, legal proof notwithstanding, will exercise their judgment by hamstringing the President by giving him a Democratic Congress that will deepen the investigation and that will make Trump decide not to seek a second term. Trump was elected, and there are many people who bear responsibility for that, but mostly it was the fault of the voters who voted for him, and so the electoral system is the best way to wipe the slate clean of a really unfortunate Presidency, here’s hoping he doesn’t do something really stupid in the meantime. I don’t think he is clever enough to try to pull off a coup, and it is to be remembered that Alexander Haig, Nixon’s last Chief of Staff, had put measures in place-- he wanted reports on any troop movements in the Washington area-- in case Nixon got it into his head to do so.