I cannot remember any historical parallel where a new president faced such legal challenges so early. Even the besieged Jimmy Carter had an eight-month honeymoon of popularity before the Bert Lance “scandal” erupted and valued aide Lance was forced to resign. He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, but not until 1980.
A special counsel was appointed in the first few months of the Bill Clinton administration. After the Waco, Texas siege of Branch Davidian Compound in 1993, killing 80 people, an investigator was appointed to look into Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ performance and Attorney General Janet Reno’s role and decision-making process. Several surviving Branch Davidians were ultimately convicted, and Reno was cleared. The ATF did revise some of its procedures in hopes of saving lives in the future. Clinton was, of course, blamed initially, but he had little to do with it.
Clinton’s first five months were pretty chaotic, with withdrawals of nominees and some policy failures. “Madhouse: The Private Turmoil of Working for the President” was Time magazine journalist Jeffrey Birnbaum’s take on the first two years of working for Clinton, from the perspective of key staffers.
I can remember being disappointed in Clinton’s performance, in June 1993, because of probably too high expectations that he would be another Franklin Roosevelt. A Time magazine cover declared him “the incredibly shrinking president.”
Richard Nixon’s first year was marked by attempts to offer olive branches to Democrats and to “bring the country together.” He was a brilliant, highly knowledgeable and skilled politician who in retrospect had many strengths. Yet he was so paranoid that in his third year he began to sew the seeds of his own destruction by authorizing an extra-legal “plumbers” unit to break into offices of “enemies” and violate their constitutional rights. “Imagine packing six years of the Nixon administration into three weeks,” tweeted Nicole Hemmer, a scholar from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center in February. Trump is “like Nixon speed-dating.”
The chaos of the Trump president seems constant and unprecedented. In his first 100 days, we have seen multiple resignations, firings, courts strike down presidential immigration orders, multiple legislative failures in Congress, and potential obstruction of justice charges.
Trump appears to be just a buffoon and ignoramus, ignorant of the law or defiant of constitutional norms. It’s possible of course that Flynn and all the other Trump aides, and Trump himself, will be cleared eventually of legal wrongdoing. But it sure doesn’t look good for Trump’s long-term survival.