There’s a lot we don’t know about Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. We know that the FBI and other agencies have been looking into any contact Trump’s campaign advisers Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone might have had contact with the Russian government during the election. We know that intelligence agencies suspect those three might have worked the Russian officials to coordinate the release of hacked emails. We know that disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, White House senior adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions all lied about or failed to disclose communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
We don’t know how all these pieces fit together. We don’t know exactly what Donald Trump Sr.’s direct involvement is, or how aware he was of his advisers’ efforts, or the nature of his business relationship with Russia. That’s provoked a lot of very valuable investigative journalism, as well as a lot of outright conspiracy theorizing.
But focusing too granularly on the details of Trump’s personal involvement risks setting the bar too low for him. It risks suggesting that unless we find undeniable proof of collusion between Trump and the Russian government, he’s in the clear.
The fact of the matter is that without any more information than we already have, we already know Trump’s conduct is at least as outrageous as what Nixon acknowledged in the smoking gun tape.
In Nixon’s case, what crossed the line, moving top leaders from his own party to go to the White House and tell Nixon that his presidency was over, was Nixon’s attempt to hamper the FBI’s investigation into Watergate.
And we now know that before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he asked Comey to stop investigating former National Security Adviser Flynn. This is exactly the same kind of FBI investigation interference that forced Nixon out of the White House and shocked his Republican allies out of defending him.
As of now, Trump’s Republican allies in Congress are standing by him and not demanding a independent prosecutor, let alone impeachment.
But this is not a “where there’s smoke there’s fire” situation. We don’t need to know much more to know that the president has committed conduct that was once thought sufficient to warrant removal from office.
The Comey firing isn’t smoke. It’s fire.