NIXON VS TRUMP: HOW A 44 YEAR OLD PUBLIC SCANDAL RESONATES IN 2017
HOW WATERGATE IS LIKE RUSSIAGATE AND HOW IT ISN'T
Had the serendipitous occasion last night to watch “All The President’s Men” on HBO, the Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman film about the Washington Post’s unraveling of the Nixon Watergate scandal. This came after I was schooled earlier on Facebook about Nixon’s impeachment. I had posted that one of the charges in the Articles of Impeachment against Nixon (Article I, Section 4) was obstructing the FBI’s investigation of the matter. I was informed, however, that Nixon wasn’t actually impeached, only Andrew Johnson and Willy Clinton were. (Clinton, I can’t help noting here, for saying “I did not have sexual relations with that women” during his testimony at a Grand Jury hearing just to set the stage for what we’re facing with Trump.) And my online critic was correct. The three Articles of Impeachment that were drawn up by the House Judiciary Committee [ NIXON'S ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT ] and voted out of the House Judiciary Committee who handles the initial stages of impeachment, to the full House of Representatives but Nixon resigned before the full House had a chance to vote on the articles. So, I learned something. Technical maybe, but, hey, I’m all about accuracy in our age of Fake News and climate change deniers. Richard Nixon was not impeached. Got it.
But back to “All The President’s Men.” It struck me both how long the Post’s investigation 44 years ago took to uncover the White House complicity in the Watergate crimes (Nixon’s minions organized and paid the five burglars and took widespread actions to cover up the complicity) and how complex was the web of connections among all the actors in the White House, the FBI, the Justice Department and the CIA. Both the “ratfucking” activities of the Nixon Administration against Democrats and the actions to squelch all the investigations into the Committee to Re-Elect The President's (CREEP, for short) criminal activity, were uncovered by questioning folks relentlessly, a few key leaks from Deep Throat, allegedly Assistant Director of the FBI, and the perseverance of Woodward and Bernstein and the Washington Post in the year long effort to uncover the crimes of the Nixon Administration.
The parallels to Russiagate are eerily affecting right now. We seem to have a President who is determined that investigations into his campaign minions who may have - or may not have - cooperated with Russia in ratfucking the 2106 election are to be squelched. This is to say nothing about Trump’s direct cooperation with Russia, if there was any. This is precisely what Nixon attempted as revealed by the White House tapes of his conversations with his staff. In addition, it’s looking like we have an Attorney General and an Assistant Attorney General who also don’t think that there is any “there, there” when it comes to Russiagate. Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, wasn’t just a part of the cover-up, he was pretty much the main bag man for the money that flowed out to Nixon’s operatives who were attempting to smear Democrats all around the country. Oh, and by the way, he was the nation’s top attorney at the time in charge of defending the Constitution. Odd that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, was forced to recuse himself from any and all matters dealing with Russiagate, not that he has, since he has admitted having conversations with the Russian Ambassador but failed to mention such conversations at his confirmation hearings.
But the parallels go only so far. Watergate was about violating campaign finance laws, committing illegal acts on political rivals, using the government to thwart investigative efforts and, in the end, covering up the illegalities that Nixon and his crew had engaged in. Trump’s Russiagate, on the other hand, isn’t about campaign chicanery, but about whether or not he and/or his campaign staffers willfully cooperated, encouraged or aided and abetted the Russians in their efforts to undermine our elections. This, in and of itself, is not just a crime but a treasonable offense. We are not talking about low-life, run-of-the-mill, efforts to win elections but aiding and abetting a foreign power in undermining America’s democratic institutions. Quite a different kettle of fish than was the Watergate scandal stemming from a “third rate burglary” as Nixon publicly proclaimed.
It’s now common knowledge that the allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia have been under investigation since at least last July. There is no longer any question that Russia did interfere in the 2016 Presidential election in Trump’s favor. Trump and his family members have admitted to Russian financial assistance in the recent past. The collusion allegations may turn out to be nothing as the right wing media claims and maybe the Russian bailout of Trump’s enterprises may have been just a one time knock-off and did not beholden Trump and his family to Putin and Russian oligarchs. But Trump’s inability to see Russia as a less than friendly world power viz the United Sates, his oft repeated praise for Putin, a ruthless, strongman leader of a nation where reporters critical of him have a nasty habit of winding up dead in some Moscow alley, and the actions Trump has recently taken that appear to expose his efforts to squelch any and all investigations into his and his associates activities, is pretty much following the same dangerous pathways as did the Nixon Administration when confronted with Watergate.
One huge difference between Watergate and Russiagate? The speed at which we the public have been kept abreast of otherwise secret revelations, much linked to Trump himself. Nixon was a smart, experienced and thoroughly knowledgeable actor when it came to politics and governance. Trump, with zip experience and not exactly the brightest bauble in the box, continues to make statements, public tweets and take actions that implicate him all on his own. Nixon, on the other hand, did not engage in these kinds of public embarrassments yet he was ultimately forced to resign as President. If the FBI, CIA, NSA investigations into Trump are able to continue without political interference, we might be looking at a premature resignation by Trump within the next couple of months. Why? Because exposing clandestine, secret and obscure actions and interactions among folks today is light years beyond what was available to the public during Nixon’s time. There was no internet, no Patriot Act, no mass spying on us, no monitoring of e-mails, and no masses of cable media outlets to instantly broadcast the latest leaked Russiagate revelation. And, Russiagate is itself a much more straightforward and serious scandal than Watergate ever was.
There’s been much media chatter about how divided the House and the Senate are today compared to the past. But in the Watergate impeachment proceedings, yes, Democrats held the majority in the House But when it came to voting out the Articles of Impeachment every single Democrat (21) voted yes while only 6 of the Republican, out of 17 on the House Judiciary Committee, voted “Yes” to send the three articles to the full House of Representatives for adoption. So there wasn’t all that much bipartisanship as you might hear about these days in the media.
But here’s the “Trump Card” in the Russiagate scandal. It’s Trump himself that seems to be so incompetent as to boost his chances of being impeached on a near daily basis. Why, for example, would you fire the guy who’s in charge of investigating you and then think that no one would notice? That somehow there wouldn’t be a firestorm as a result? This is one of Trump’s biggest blind spots. He seems to think because his followers will follow him over the Niagara Falls, that the whole of America is with him. And his constant media bashing doesn’t increase the number of Americans who also believe that the media is constantly reporting "Fake News” but has just the opposite effect. Not, naturally, with Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and his Rust Belt voters. And not only the firing, why smear the guy in a tweet the next day? If Trump thinks that the 34,000 folks who work for the FBI are going to support him after his disgraceful treatment of former FBI Director Comey, he has absolutely no idea how the Washington bureaucracy actually works nor how ultimately powerful it can be. With all of Trump’s bashing and bad-mouthing of the FBI, you can rest assured that pretty much every single FBI agent will be out to get him like they have never been before.
It’s Trumpland Folks And No, You Just Can’t Make This Shit Up!
PS: Just caught Bob Woodward of Watergate fame on Fox News this morning. Curiously, his demeanor was much more muted than I’ve seen on other newscasts. What this portends I don’t know but it was noticeable. Maybe it was because he was appearing on the only television channel that actually reports Real News rather than Fake News like CNN or MSNBC or CBS do!