45 Years Ago
(is not that far back)
At least one third of the population of the U.S.A. in 2017 was around in 1972 --- 45 years ago. For those who weren’t --- and those who were but might have been too young to remember it well --- here are some of the highlights of that year. The Cowboys won their first Super Bowl (before they were “America’s Team”) and Shirley Chisholm, an African American Congresswoman from Brooklyn announced she was a Democratic candidate for President. Richard Nixon made historic trips to China and Russia (where he signed the SALT I arms limitation treaty). The Godfather was released in theaters and the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress and went to the states for ratification. The United States Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional (Furman v. Georgia) and Ms. magazine began publishing. The Democrats nominated George McGovern and the Republicans went with Nixon/Agnew (again). The Dow Industrial average reached 1,000 points for the first time and Eugene Cernan became the last man to walk on the moon. Women were allowed to run in the Boston Marathon for the first time and Dartmouth College admitted women for the first time. And, on June 17th, the Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate Complex was broken into (after two unsuccessful attempts in May). Little was made of the story at the time.
We can’t get away from hearing about Watergate now, of course, not because it is the 45th anniversary of the break-in but because people are seeing (justifiably or not) parallels to Nixon’s obstruction of justice and cover up with the behavior of our current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The question is: how valid are the comparisons?
Here’s what we have that might be deemed similar: Trump fired Comey because he was investigating the President’s campaign staff’s possible collusion with the Russian hackers. That certainly sounds a lot like Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” when he ordered Attorney General Eliot Richardson to fire Special Counsel Archibald Cox --- and Richardson refused and resigned. Next in command at the DoJ, William Ruckelshaus, did the same. Finally, Robert Bork, the Solicitor General, carried out the President’s unsavory directive. Trump’s recent Twitter rants about possibly firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein seem to fall into the Nixon pattern, but we’ll see. The reason all this Trump business does not match Watergate is that in the latter we had the physical break-in and 5 suspects under arrest. Presently, with Trump, there may be “obstruction of justice” because of what Comey has told us Trump ordered (?) him to do (and there may be others who verify that but that’s all testimony only Special Counsel Bob Mueller and his staff presently know --- or don’t!)
I know some reputable attorneys have been in the media claiming what Trump has already done is “obstruction of justice” but just as many (though maybe not quite as reputable) are saying there’s “no there, there.” The fact is, we don’t know and, until there is more evidence right out there in public view, we can’t say. There is lots of smoke, certainly, but I’m not sure we’re seeing any real flames here.
Those who remember Watergate will recall that it wasn’t until the Spring of 1973 --- almost a full year later --- that the shit began to hit the fan. In April of 1973 John Dean began cooperating with investigators and in July Alexander Butterfield revealed THE TAPES. That’s when flames, smoking guns, and small nuclear explosions engulfed the White House, not before. So, what we need right now is less jumping to conclusions (particularly those of us who are NOT lawyers and are only listening to our siloed echo chamber) and to have some patience. Mueller et al are apparently beginning to “follow the money,” just as Woodward and Bernstein did in 1972-73. That’s always a sound way to go. Let’s wait and see what the eminent Mr. Mueller presents us with by New Year’s 2018. If there are bombshells before then, let’s make sure we’re seeing real fire and not more smoke.