All This President’s Men
The Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman All the President’s Men was on one of the HBO channels on Saturday night and any time that movie is shown it’s hard not to flash back to that period of U.S. history. If you lived through it you will remember how America was consumed by the scandal. An event the Nixon administration tried to shrug off as a “third rate burglary” morphed into the greatest Presidential scandal in American history, resulting in the resignation of the 37th President of the United States. What is forgotten amid the drama and the cover-up is that what Nixon and his henchmen were trying to do was fix the 1972 election --- and they did! Most people, when they hear “Watergate,” think about Nixon’s resignation and the cover-up, Woodward & Bernstein (as played by Redford & Hoffman). But the far more serious issue beneath the Watergate scandal was a serious attack on the electoral process and, essentially, fixing the Democratic nominating process to produce the weakest candidate to run against Nixon. And it worked! Look at the results of the 1972 Presidential election: Nixon 520, McGovern 17. McGovern only carried Massachusetts and the District of Columbia, failing to take his home state of South Dakota! Could Nixon have run against a weaker candidate?
If we look at the current investigation of the Donald Trump campaign for President in 2016 we see that the Robert Mueller investigation is, like Watergate, about the election being fixed (or “rigged,” as Trump himself claimed). In this case, there is a possibility that Trump surrogates, if not the “President” himself, worked with agents of the Russian oligarchy to tilt the election in Trump’s favor. While there are not “shocking” parallels between the two scandals, we might want to take a look who the Nixon operatives were and compare them to the Trump “surrogates” under scrutiny today.
The Nixon line-up included the following (wikipedia):
· John N. Mitchell – former United States Attorney General and director of Nixon's 1968 and 1972 election campaigns; faced a maximum of 30 years in prison and $42,000 in fines; on February 21, 1975, Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and perjury and sentenced to two and a half to eight years in prison, which was later reduced to one to four years; Mitchell actually served 19 months.
· H. R. Haldeman – White House chief of staff, considered the second most powerful man in the government during Nixon's first term; faced a maximum of 25 years in prison and $16,000 in fines; in 1975, he was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice and received an 18-month prison sentence.
· John Ehrlichman – former assistant to Nixon in charge of domestic affairs; faced a maximum of 25 years in prison and $40,000 in fines. Ehrlichman was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury and other charges; he served 18 months in prison.
· Charles Colson – former White House counsel specializing in political affairs; plead nolo contendere on June 3, 1974 to one charge of obstruction of justice, having persuaded prosecution to change the charge from one of which he believed himself innocent to another of which he believed himself guilty, in order to testify freely. he was sentenced to 1 to 3 years of prison and fined $5,000; Colson served seven months.
* Jeb Stuart Magruder, Deputy Director of Committee to Re-elect the President pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to the burglary, and was sentenced to 10 months to four years in prison, of which he served 7 months before being paroled.
* John W. Dean III, counsel to Nixon, convicted of obstruction of justice, later reduced to felony offenses and sentenced to time already served, which totaled 4 months.
* Dwight L. Chapin, deputy assistant to Nixon, convicted of perjury.
* Herbert W. Kalmbach, personal attorney to Nixon, convicted of illegal campaigning.
What we see in that list are people very close to the President --- as well as people Nixon probably didn't even know. His former Attorney General (think Jefferson Beauregard Sessions), John Mitchell, was the Campaign Director (think Paul Manafort) and a driving force behind the break-in and other “dirty tricks.” We also see a number of lawyers (Colson Dean, Kalmbach) who advised the President in a variety of roles --- which we certainly see with the Trump investigation (Michael Cohen, Ty Cobb, John Dowd, Don McGahn, et al). Those people may not be swept up in the Mueller probe but the parallels are, at least, interesting.
Now, who are the “major players” in the Trump-Russia investigation? Here’s a brief list (courtesy of CNN Politics):
Paul Manafort -- A Republican strategist and longtime Washington operator, Manafort joined Trump's campaign team last spring and was elevated after campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June. But with just under three months to go until the presidential election, Manafort resigned amid questions over his campaign role and extensive lobbying history overseas, particularly in Ukraine, where he represented pro-Russian interests. Manafort and Rick Gates, long-time business associates who served together on the Trump campaign, were indicted in connection with Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation on 12 counts that included conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal. The charges do not cover any activities related to the campaign, though it's possible Mueller could add additional charges.
Rick Gates -- Gates' fate has long been tied to the fortunes of Paul Manafort. Manafort served as Trump's campaign chairman, and he ran the Trump campaign for several months with Gates serving as his deputy. Gates stayed on the campaign after Manafort was ousted amid questions about his work in Ukraine. But Gates was ousted from a pro-Trump advocacy group earlier this year amid mounting questions about Manafort. Gates has denied any wrongdoing. "Everything was done legally and with the approval of our lawyers," Gates said in a June interview with The New York Times. "Nothing to my knowledge was ever done inappropriately."
George Papadopoulos -- A former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI after he lied about his interactions with Russians who had close ties to the Kremlin.
A former Trump campaign official said Papadopoulos interacted with the campaign "a significant amount" during the 2016 election cycle. When asked about Papadopoulos' role in the campaign, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters his role was "extremely limited" and called it a "volunteer position."
Michael Flynn -- Flynn has courted controversy since before he became an early supporter of Trump's campaign. Trump tapped him as national security adviser. His tenure in any case didn't last long, as he resigned after acknowledging that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak. His financial ties with Russia and other foreign countries have also attracted attention, including the emails obtained by Cummings showing that he was paid by a state-run Russian TV outlet from which he had originally denied receiving funds.
Jared Kushner -- The 36-year-old businessman-turned-political operative played a crucial role in his father-in-law's presidential campaign and has carved out a role for himself as one of Trump's key White House aides.
Carter Page -- Trump last year listed him as a foreign policy adviser in response to a question from The Washington Post. His reported meeting with Kislyak during the Republican convention in Cleveland is one of his interactions with Russian officials that has caught the attention of the FBI.
Roger Stone -- The eccentric former Trump adviser and self-described, master of political dark arts has been labeled as the "dirty trickster" of delegate fights. He has worked with the campaigns of Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.
Michael Cohen -- Trump's personal lawyer has been a staunch defender of his client, often serving as a media surrogate during the campaign. During a CNN interview in February, Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko said he had discussed a pro-Russian peace plan for Ukraine with Cohen over dinner in January.
Remembering the Watergate timeline may prove helpful in watching the Trump investigation unfold.