WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) – Watergate and Jan. 6 are half a century apart, yet they both stem from the same ancient desire for power at whatever cost.
Two presidents, both cunning and vulgar, attempted to circumvent democracy.
The House investigation into the Capitol revolt on Jan. 6, 2021, coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Watergate scandal this week.
Is there anything in Donald Trump’s deceptions that might be considered a smoking gun? Or did we see it when he called for a “crazy” time in Washington, told his supporters to “fight like hell,” and suggested that his vice president, one of the few “no” men in his subservient cabal, be hanged like the insurrectionists demanded?
Trump had lost the election and was attempting to maintain his power. But what about Nixon? One of the most important questions is why he went rogue in the first place.
When bumbling burglars tied to Nixon’s campaign committee broke into Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building 50 years ago Friday, they were caught. Nixon was on his way to reelection.
His cover-up and efforts to obstruct justice were exposed chapter after chapter, and he resigned nearly two years later rather than face a likely impeachment trial conviction. Three Republican congressional leaders travelled to the White House to persuade him that he was doomed.
Trump, on the other hand, was desperate after losing the 2020 election by enlisting his own bumblers — attorneys, aides, and hangers-on — as well as the violent mob at the Capitol to overturn the results and maintain him in power. Only a few members of his own party publicly encouraged him to concede defeat.
Watergate is the standard by which all other presidential scandals in the United States are assessed. It was responsible for the impeachment of a president. However, it was the 6th of January that resulted in a bloodbath.
After the scandal of Watergate, Republicans were thrown out of Congress by the tens of thousands in 1974. This time, almost everyone agrees that the party will make gains.
The system worked in Watergate, according to Michael Dobbs, author of “King Richard: Nixon and Watergate — An American Tragedy,” published in 2021 because Congress, the courts, and the press all did their jobs in demonstrating a chain of criminal behaviour that led to Nixon’s resignation.
“The system was stressed then,” he continued, “but it is considerably more stressed now.”
Inflation was approaching 9% by the end of the year when the Senate Watergate Committee began hearings in May 1973, which is approximately where it is now. The stock market has plummeted. People had pressing distractions back then, as they do now.
Americans, on the other hand, were enthralled by the sight of a president gradually slipping into humiliation. In a Gallup poll, more than 70% said they watched the televised hearings, which lasted nearly three months that summer.
To now, the Jan. 6 sessions have been more about investigators demonstrating and reporting what they’ve already discovered after months of meticulous investigation.
Evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in planning or encouraging the disturbance to overturn the election, according to Dobbs, would be a Nixonian smoking gun.
“The unclear nature of Trump’s words from a legal standpoint,” he added, poses a hurdle for the Jan. 6 investigation and any subsequent prosecution. “The phrase ‘fight like hell’ can be taken in a variety of ways.”
The panel has demonstrated the extent to which Trump’s circle knew his case about a stolen election was a hoax by releasing previously taped evidence from close associates of Trump. Ivanka Trump, his daughter, was not convinced.
Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, testified that if the president truly believes his claims, they are “removed from reality.”
Harsh words, but what effect do they have?
In the 2022 midterm election season, Trump’s election denial pervades the campaigns of far-right Republicans, with some winning their primaries. The hearings will not be the final word on Trump’s deception.
“Trump is constitutionally unable to tolerate criticism,” said political analyst Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University. “As a result, expect a swelling tide of recriminations, a growing list of foes, and a long-term retaliation plan.”
“Other Republican leaders will consider the potential damage to the party,” he added, “but no Howard Bakers are on the horizon just yet.”
Baker embodied the political politics of Congress at the time, which were partisan but not poisonous. He was the Republican Party’s Rep. Liz Cheney of the day, but he was on his way up, not outcasts like the vulnerable Wyoming congressman, who is vehement in her contempt for Trump and fellow Republicans who won’t cross him.
Initially, Baker showed innate allegiance to Nixon, assuring him face to face, “I’m your friend,” when the hearings began.
However, as the leading Republican on the Watergate panel, he listened, interrogated, and dug in over hundreds of hours of hearings and witnessed the corruption.
Baker’s famous inquiry, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” was really intended as a shaky defence of the president, since he expected the response to be limited.
In 1992, Baker told The Associated Press, “I assumed it was a Democrat political tactic that would come to nought.” “But after a few weeks, it dawned on me that there was more to it than I had imagined, and more to it than I liked.”
The mild-mannered Tennessee senator became an unlikely heartthrob due to the perseverance and intensity of his inquiries. His office was inundated with love letters. He was described as “studly” by a women’s magazine.
The Watergate committee, which consisted of four Democrats and three Republicans, was constituted by a unanimous vote in the Senate, which is nearly unheard of today on almost any substantive matter. It was tasked with investigating the Watergate scandal as well as “any other illegal, inappropriate, or unethical activity” during the 1972 presidential campaign.
The House committee on Jan. 6 was created by a vote of 222 to 190. Cheney and retiring Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger were the only two Republicans who voted for the committee.
Whereas Trump aired his frustrations and provocations loudly, Nixon did so in private, or at least what he thought was private. When the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to turn over the recordings, it was the White House taping system he had constructed for posterity that did him down.
Nixon’s chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman, is heard recommending to Nixon on June 23, 1972, six days after the burglary, that the FBI be told to drop its investigation of the break-in before the bureau could trace the crime to the White House or Nixon himself.
“There’s some business here we don’t want you to go any farther on,” Haldeman advised the FBI director.
Nixon said, “Mm-hmm.” “Mm-hmm.”
“All right, fine,” Nixon said. “Be harsh on yourself. That’s how they play it, and that’s how we’ll play it as well.”
The smoking pistol was a bullet fired with the intent of obscuring justice.
The Associated Press revealed a day after the break-in that one of the burglars was a Nixon campaign-hired security officer, the first tentative link to the president and one that astonished police and prosecutors.
Later, for The Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein corroborated the report before going on to bulldoze everyone else with their bombshell Watergate exclusives laying the cover-up squarely on the president.
Bernstein now claims that the heroes of Watergate were “Republicans who had the bravery to say this is not about ideology, this is about illegality,” rather than the journalists who exposed Nixon’s wrongdoings or the Democrats who led the assault.
Who ordered the break-in is still unknown after all these years. There is no evidence that Nixon did so directly, but there is no doubt that he staged a coverup and acted dishonestly in other ways.
According to Dobbs, Nixon established the “paranoid culture” that led to Watergate. “The plot took on a life of its own, propelled onward by lunatics like Gordon Liddy, who predicted the president’s wants.”
What will Americans say about January 6th in fifty years?
In a Twitter statement about the proceedings, historian Michael Beschloss said the answer depends on whether America is a democracy or an autocrat by then. “If the latter is true, the nation’s authoritarian leaders may commemorate January 6 as one of the great days in American history,” Trump has said.
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He also posed a question that can never be answered definitively.
“How would our country have fared if the January 6 coup had succeeded?”