If you’re looking to Jon Meacham for comfort after Friday’s New York Times bombshell report revealing the FBI had investigated whether President Donald Trump was working as a Russian agent, cover your ears.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Brian Williams shortly after the scoop was published, the presidential historian said the news was unprecedented.
“We’ve really never had ― and if we have, it’s classified and lost to history at least so far ― a president of the United States who is considered to be possibly an asset of a foreign government,” Meacham said. “This is what the founders were worried about in the 1790s.”
Meacham recalled similar concerns about the Founders themselves in the early days of the republic, when George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson came under suspicion. However, “that was in a kind of fevered political atmosphere,” he added, noting that the FBI didn’t yet exist to get to the bottom of the matter.
“I think the report in the Times tonight has ― if anything could possibly elevate the stakes of our current moment, that did it,” Meacham said.
The story cited ex-law enforcement officials who explained that the bureau opened its inquiry in May 2017, just days after the ousting of its former director, James Comey. The key questions were whether his firing was a threat to national security and whether Trump had obstructed justice in carrying it out, given that the agency is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Meacham described it as a “slow moving, unfolding story,” employing a rather unsettling historical parallel.
“The worst possible scenario here is we’re like the Titanic steaming through the North Atlantic and we know that the iceberg is there, we’re not sure how big it is and the [closest ship] won’t answer our distress calls,” he said. “I think that’s kind of where we are and we don’t yet know how we’re going to view this because we don’t yet know how it turns out.”
While the country waits to see the fallout of the news and where special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation leads, Meacham identified both him and Chief Justice John Roberts as the two most important individuals in the country.
This story has been updated to clarify Meacham’s statements about the Founders and the sinking of the Titanic.