Watergate 50 is on January 6th. Common Topic: Power Seat

WASHINGTON (AP) – The wreckage of Watergate and January 6 are half a century apart, but rooted in the same ancient lust for power at any cost.

Two presidents, cunning and unholy, tried to end democracy.

The mysteries of both matters linger as the House inquiry into the January 6, 2021 uprising on Capitol Hill intersects with this week’s 50th anniversary of Watergate.

Is there a smoking gun in Donald Trump’s deceptions? Or have we already seen it when he summoned angry supporters for a “wild” moment in Washington, urged them to “fight like hell” and reflected that perhaps his vice president – ​​one of the few “no” men in his complacent cabal – should be hanged as the insurgents demanded?

Trump had lost the election and was looking to cling to power. But Nixon? A key question may be why he bothered to be dishonest.

Nixon was on a comfortable path to re-election when bumbling thieves linked to his campaign committee broke into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building 50 years ago on Friday and were caught.

Chapter after chapter exposure of his cover-up and efforts to obstruct justice removed him from office nearly two years later, when he resigned instead of facing probable conviction in an impeachment trial. Three congressional Republican leaders came to the White House and helped convince him that he was doomed.

In contrast, Trump was desperate, having convincingly defeated the 2020 election when he dispatched his own bunglers — lawyers, aides, parasites — as well as the violent mob on Capitol Hill in an attempt to reverse the results and keep him in office. Few in his party publicly urged him to accept defeat.

Watergate is the American presidential scandal by which all others are measured. Toppled a president. However, January 6th was the one that shed blood.

Watergate had a powerful aftermath, leading to Republicans being expelled from Congress by the dozen in 1974. This time around, there is near unanimity that the party will make gains.

Michael Dobbs, author of the 2021 “King Richard: Nixon and Watergate – An American Tragedy,” said the system worked at Watergate because Congress, the courts, and the press did their job in establishing a chain of criminal activity that led Nixon to to waive.

“The system was under stress then,” he said, “but it’s under much greater stress today.”

When the Senate Watergate committee conducted its historic hearings starting in May 1973, inflation was heading towards 9% by the end of the year, roughly where it is now. The stock market crashed. Then, as now, people had urgent distractions.

But Americans were fascinated by the spectacle of a president slowly sinking into disgrace. More than 70% said in a Gallup poll that they watched televised ratings that spanned nearly three months of that summer.

The January 6 hearings so far are less about investigators uncovering new facts than about showing and telling what they’ve already discovered in months of methodical work.

For Dobbs, evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in planning or inciting the riot with the intent to overturn the election would constitute a Nixonian smoking gun.

The challenge for the January 6 inquiry and any process that may follow is “the ambiguous nature of Trump’s statements from a legal standpoint,” he said. “’Fight like hell’ can be interpreted in different ways.”

By releasing previously recorded testimonies from close associates of Trump, the panel exposed the extent to which Trump’s inner circle knew his case about a stolen election was a hoax. Not even his daughter Ivanka Trump was buying it.

Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, testified that the president’s arguments were “unplugged from reality” if he truly believes them.

Harsh words, but with what effect?

Trump’s election denialism runs through the campaigns of far-right Republicans in the 2022 midterm election season, some prevailing in their primaries. The hearings will by no means be the last word on Trump’s lies.

“Trump is constitutionally incapable of letting criticism go,” said Southern Methodist University political scholar Cal Jillson. “So expect a rising tide of recriminations, an ever-growing enemy list, and a program of retribution that stretches into the future.

“Other Republican leaders will reflect on the damage this could do to the party,” he added, “but still, there’s no Howard Bakers on the horizon.”

Baker personified the politics of the day in Congress, partisan but not poisonous. He was the Liz Cheney Representative of the day, but rising in the GOP, not a pariah of his like the Wyoming congresswoman, who is fierce in her disdain for Trump and his fellow Republicans who don’t cross him.

Baker expressed instinctive loyalty to Nixon early on — “I’m your friend,” he remembers telling him face-to-face when the hearings began. But as the top Republican on the Watergate panel, he listened, questioned, investigated the hundreds of hours of hearings and saw corruption.

His famous question – “What did the president know and when did he know?” — was actually put forward as an attempt to defend the president, because Baker hoped the response wouldn’t be much.

“I believed it was a political ploy by the Democrats, it would come to nothing,” Baker told the Associated Press in 1992. I thought, and more than I liked.”

The persistence and gravity of his questioning made the Tennessee senator an unlikely heartthrob. Love letters flooded his office. A women’s magazine called him a “boy”.

The Watergate committee of four Democrats and three Republicans was formed by a unanimous vote in the Senate, unheard of today on almost any issue of substance. He was charged with investigating the Watergate affair and “all other illegal, improper or unethical conduct” in the 1972 campaign.

The Jan. 6 House committee, by contrast, was formed with a vote of 222 to 190. The only two Republicans who voted for the committee, Cheney and retired Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, were placed on it.

Where Trump loudly proclaimed his grievances and taunts, Nixon sounded private, or what he thought was private. It was the White House recording system that Nixon installed for posterity that cursed him when the Supreme Court forced him to hand over the tapes.

In a June 23, 1972 conversation, six days after the theft, Nixon’s chief of staff, HR Haldeman, is heard recommending to Nixon that the FBI be instructed to close its investigation of the burglary before the department can trace the crime. to the location. White House or Nixon himself.

“There’s some business here that we don’t want you to go ahead with,” Haldeman suggested that the FBI chief be informed.

“Mm-hmm,” Nixon said. “Mm-hum.”

“Alright, alright,” Nixon concluded. “Play hard. That’s how they play, and that’s how we’re going to play.”

That was the smoking gun, a bullet flying for the purpose of obstructing justice.

The day after the break-in, the AP reported that one of the thieves was a paid security officer from the Nixon campaign, the first attempt to link with the president and which surprised police and prosecutors.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein later confirmed the story to The Washington Post before slaying everyone else with their exclusive Watergate blockbusters pinning the cover-up squarely on the president.

The heroes of Watergate, says Bernstein now, were not primarily the journalists who exposed Nixon’s crimes or the Democrats who led the charge, but “the Republicans who had the courage to say it’s not about ideology, it’s about lawlessness.” ”.

All these years later, it remains unknown who ordered the break-in. There is no evidence that Nixon did this directly, although there is no ambiguity about the fact that he mounted a cover-up and played dirty.

Nixon created the “paranoid culture” that spawned Watergate, Dobbs said. “The conspiracy has taken on a life of its own, driven by wacky operators like Gordon Liddy, anticipating the president’s wishes.”

Fifty years from now, what will Americans say about January 6th?

Historian Michael Beschloss, in comments on Twitter about the hearings, said the answer depends on whether the United States is a democracy or an autocracy. “If it’s the last, the country’s authoritarian leaders can celebrate January 6th as one of the great days in US history,” as Trump has now described.

He also asked a question that can never be definitively answered.

“What would have happened to our country if the January 6 coup had succeeded?”

Leave a Comment