As the President Goes For Authoritarian Rule, Remember, Watergate Almost Didn’t Happen.
If anyone thinks it is a foregone conclusion that Robert Mueller will bag Donald Trump, all one has to do is look back at Watergate to see that this might not happen. Watergate, as many know, almost never happened. This investigation, as well, if credible in the end, is going to be a long slog. And there are no guarantees. Archibald Cox, who served as Special Prosecutor during the Watergate time, notes in his book, ‘The Role of the Supreme Court in American Government’ how close it came to not happening.
Like now, back then in the Spring 1973 (same time as Trump’s inquiry only it is Trump’s second term and that was Nixon’s second), there were multiple investigations: a Senate investigation of the Watergate break-in and a Special Prosecutor. The tactics were similar: include co-conspirators to give top evidence against his or her associates, or document the actual wrongdoing itself. John Dean, White House Counsel, eventually gave Nixon up and testified against the boss. Yet, two big time Nixon insiders, H.R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichmann, held the line and contradicted Dean, basically accusing him of lying. It was a Texas standoff and Nixon remained in a strong position despite Dean’s flip.
But then the levee nearly broke when another aide advised the Special Prosecutor there were tapes of recorded conversations in the White House’s Oval Office of all conversations. The Special Prosecutor issued a subpoena for the tapes and transcripts. The Senate did the same.
Of course, Nixon refused to comply and the famous battle over the Nixon tapes began in the courts. He would debase the Constitution during this period and scoff at the document that gave him the comfortable and orderly rule he had enjoyed for 5 years. Eventually, Nixon would lose that battle but it took until the following summer for Nixon to finally resign in shame for his ruthless act of authoritarian rule.
This past week we witnessed the sitting President wade dangerously into the area of authoritarian rule explicitly. The President sought to influence the decisions of the U.S. Department of Justice in conducting its work that is directly related to him, the President. People should be more on edge than they seem. Some have asked is this “obstruction of justice”? For me, it is.
Yet, our Congress, most of it, is not at all tuned in as to how serious that act was, and could be. Their refusal and, in fact, alliance with another branch of government (the Executive) is a development that renders this so called “American experiment” in democratic rule, null and void. Unlike in 1974, no one seems to be present and accountable. Whether the President is guilty or not, this is way across the line. Sally Yates, who served in DOJ for more than 20 years, said as much yesterday. This can serve as the last word here but perhaps it is a precursor to something more ominous in the coming weeks:
“I think what we’re seeing here is the president has taken his all-out assault of the rule of law to a new level and this time he is ordering up an investigation of the investigators who are examining his own campaign. You know, that’s really shocking,”