It’s Not Watergate—Yet!

By

Leonard Zwelling

The firing of James Comey as FBI Director on Tuesday, May 9 has been likened to the Saturday Night Massacre that took place in October of 1973.

Then President Richard Nixon ordered his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire Archibald Cox, a Harvard professor who was a special Watergate prosecutor. Richardson refused. He was then fired. William Ruckelshaus was the Deputy Attorney General. He too refused to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus was fired. Solicitor General and future Supreme Court reject Robert Bork, did the deed and Cox was gone. In less than a year, so was Nixon.

The current crisis may or may not prove to be of the magnitude of Watergate where the very fabric of the nation and the rule of the Constitution were being challenged by the president and his men. Were it not for Mark Felt (Deep Throat), Alexander Butterfield, John Dean, Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and a host of lesser players (Google them all) plus those pesky Oval Office tapes, Mr. Nixon may have completed his two terms. But that was then and this is now.

First, the threat to the nation from Watergate was coming from inside the White House and the halls of the executive branch. The threat today is from Russia. That members of the executive branch or newly elected executive branch might have colluded with a foreign enemy makes this a different scenario. Not better or worse, just different.

Second, while Donald Trump has a host of ghosts in his closet from bankruptcy to an overt association with show business, he does not have the history that Richard Nixon had in hunting Communists and ruining careers. Nixon was a known bad actor. It surprised no one when he was caught lying and cheating. Trump is a lot of things including a liar, but he, unlike Nixon, is a political novice and not adept at the dirty tricks that so colored everything Nixon did. Trump may be a crook, but he’s not as good a one as Nixon who, as Jackie Mason noted, “kept getting caught and someone else went to jail.”

Third, Watergate started with a crime. It is not yet certain that there has been any crime committed by anyone in the Trump White House or associated with the Trump campaign.

Fourth, there is nowhere to hide any more. If there is even a scrap of evidence that Trump okayed outreach to the Russians that could undermine actions of the still President Obama prior to the January 20, 2017 inauguration, then we may have an example of sedition that might constitute an impeachable offense.

That is all in front of us right now.

But, this has been going on for a very short period of time and is moving fast. The Watergate break-in was in June of 1972. The Saturday Night Massacre was over a year later and Nixon resigned in August of 1974. These things take time to roll out and this Russia scandal is moving far faster than Watergate ever did.

Also remember that the current president’s party controls both houses of Congress. Congressional investigations may be slow.

If one more shoe falls (e.g., Michael Flynn talks and tells that Trump knew about all of the contacts with the Russians and in fact ordered them to quell Russian concerns over the actions of Mr. Obama after the Russian hacks were confirmed), there will be a special prosecutor or a 9/11 type committee in Congress and things may move quickly.

Nixon wanted Cox gone. He was getting too close. Trump wanted Comey gone. He too was probably getting too close. Supposedly he wanted more money to expand the Russia investigation. That might have been too much for Trump who thinks the whole Russia thing is “fake news.” It’s not. It’s as real as the Watergate break-in and far more threatening.

But in the age of the Internet, there will be no stopping Congress or the press. They will pursue all leads. If there is something to find it will be found and I believe that there is and that Mr. Trump will be impeached sometime in early 2019 after the new Democratically-controlled House is installed.

A guy can dream, can’t he.

It’s not about what did the president know and when did he know it this time. It’s what did the president do, and when did he do it. Was he even president yet and if not, was he actively trying to undo the official actions of the sitting president?

Leonard Zwelling