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Gov. Jerry Brown: ‘Trump is a Very Polarizing Figure’

Many have raised the specter of former President Richard Nixon and the “Saturday Night Massacre” in the wake of FBI Director James Comey’s ouster this week, but California Gov. Jerry Brown is careful not to draw too much of a comparison.

“I think it was a different period,” Brown said. “But I’ve seen the press trying to make that analogy thing. I think we are in a different period.”

The Democratic governor spoke about the Comey fallout to David Axelrod in a special conversation on “The Axe Files,” airing Saturday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

“I do think that Comey’s public statements about the emails and Hillary was very bad and unprofessional, and he’d never even acknowledged it,” Brown said. “So I think Comey has real serious problems.”

Despite these concerns, Brown is skeptical of the timing of Comey’s firing.

“That’s the other point, that he asked for resources to investigate the Russian-Trump connection,” Brown said. “So yeah, that smells. No question about it.”

Comey was unexpectedly dismissed Tuesday night, with his ouster initially pinned on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. In a memorandum, Rosenstein said Comey had mishandled his investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server, specifically noting that he attempted to “usurp the attorney general’s authority” by publicly announcing in July 2016 that he would not seek charges on Clinton’s handling of classified information while secretary of state.

In the days following the firing, however, the White House has shifted the narrative. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Comey “wasn’t doing a good job.” Then, on Thursday, he claimed that he would have dismissed Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation and said he considered the FBI investigation into allegations of collusion between Trump campaign aides and Russian operatives in an effort to influence the US election when he made the decision to oust Comey.

Brown thinks all of this tumult and uncertainty is not only hanging over Trump, but also over the nation’s capital, adding that he would like to see both sides of the aisle come together to get some definitive answers —and that’s where he would like to see echoes of Watergate.

“I would like to see the Senate restore some of it’s earlier luster, thinking of the great giants in the Senate in the past, and with truly bipartisan Democrats and Republicans, let them investigate,” Brown said. “I think that maybe you bring the House in, too. Watergate was a lot. The investigation there was driven by the House of Representatives and by the committees. So I think they’re capable, if they can get off this circus of partisanship and polarization.”

Beyond the Beltway, Brown sees an opportunity for Democrats to seize on what he calls the “paradox of Trump,” or the elevation of progressive causes in opposition to Trump’s agenda.

“Trump is a very polarizing figure,” Brown said. “Obamacare was less popular when Obama was president. It is more popular with President Trump. Climate change is a far more significant and favorable issue under Trump than it was under Obama. Trump, by becoming the face of anti-Obamacare and the face of climate denial, gives both of those causes, those anti-causes, a very bad name and thereby boosts the more progressive alternative.”

“If the world doesn’t blow up, the Democrats are going to consolidate in a very powerful way if they use a little bit of judgment,” Brown said.

Brown suggested that some of this strategy means reconnecting with voters in industrial swing states who he believes might grow disappointed with the President.

“All the strange and bad things people said about him, it reinforced the idea that he’s different, he’s not one of the old boys. Maybe he’ll get me a job; maybe he’ll help me. That was the hope,” Brown said of the 2016 election. “Now, the reality is, he’s disappointing that. And if he doesn’t change, the people in all those swing states are going to be very open to a very different kind of candidacy.”