“Overstated” hardly suffices in describing the media’s eagerness to find in President Donald Trump’s odd affinity for Russia parallels or echoes that bring to mind Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.
Such stuff is overstated. Premature. Facile. And ahistoric.
Even if they are vague and remote, Trump-Russia parallels to Nixon-Watergate are delectable to hyperventilating anti-Trump commentators. But of course no evidence has emerged that Trump or his administration have been corrupted by Russia, or that they are under the influence of Russia’s thuggish leader, Vladimir Putin.
Casually invoking such parallels is to ignore and diminish Watergate’s exceptionality. Watergate was a constitutional crisis of unique dimension in which some 20 men, associated either with Nixon’s administration or his reelection campaign in 1972, went to prison.
Watergate’s dénouement — Nixon’s resignation in August 1974 — was driven not by dogged reporting of the Washington Post but by Nixon’s self-destructive decision to tape-record conversations at the White House. Thousands of hours of audiotape recordings were secretly made, from February 1971 to July 1973.
“To roll up a scandal of such dimension [as Watergate] required the collective if not always the coordinated forces of special prosecutors, federal judges, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court, as well as the Justice Department and the FBI.
“Even then,” I write, Nixon likely would have served out his term if not for the audiotape recordings he secretly made of most conversations in the Oval Office of the White House.”
Those recordings were crucial. They provided unambiguous evidence that Nixon conspired to obstruct justice by approving a plan to divert the FBI from its investigation into the seminal crime of Watergate — the burglary in June 1972 at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.
Without the tapes, Nixon likely would have served out his second presidential term. He would have been bloodied and weakened by Watergate, but his presidency likely would have survived the scandal.
That, too, was the assessment of Watergate’s leading historian, Stanley Kutler, who died last year. In the final analysis, Kutler observed, Nixon “was primarily responsible” for bringing down Nixon, given the tell-tale tapes.
“Absent the tapes, Nixon walks,” Kutler said. “You had to have that kind of corroborative evidence to nail the president of the United States.”
Not only were the White House tapes essential, but unseating Nixon, a Republican, also required a Democratic-controlled Congress to pursue investigations of the administration and the tentacles of Watergate. Likewise, it took a Republican-controlled Congress to impeach Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice.
It would take a good deal more than vague associations for a Republican-controlled Congress to consider launching an impeachment inquiry of Trump, and that reality renders Trump-Russia and Nixon-Watergate comparisons even more distant and improbable.
Of course, Trump, himself, has invoked Nixon and Watergate. He did so yesterday, claiming on Twitter that his predecessor, Barack Obama, wiretapped Trump Tower in New York City. Trump offered no evidence to support the claim, which stands as yet another example of how Nixon-Watergate parallels are invoked with imprecision.
In tweeting such a claim, Trump came off as unpersuasive as his bloviating media foes.
More from Media Myth Alert:
- The Nixon tapes: A pivotal Watergate story that WaPo missed
- Of media myths and false lessons abroad: Biden’s Moscow gaffe
- Trump, Nixon and the ‘secret plan’ media myth
- Media myths: Prominent cases of ‘fake news’ masquerading as fact
- No, ‘Politico’ — Nixon never said he had a ‘secret plan’ for Vietnam
- WaPo, Helen Thomas, and Nixon’s ‘secret plan’
- Correction or clarification needed in WaPo reference to Nixon’s ‘secret plan’ on Vietnam
- Arrogance: WaPo won’t correct dubious claim about Nixon ‘secret plan’ for Vietnam
- The hero-journalist myth of Watergate
- Pumping up Watergate’s heroic-journalist myth
- Who, or what, brought down Nixon?
- ‘You might bring down a government’: Sure, that happens
- Both left, right embrace media myth about WaPo and Watergate
- ‘Follow the money’: A made-up Watergate line
- ‘A debunker’s work is never done’
- Check out The 1995 Blog
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ receives major shout-out in ‘New Yorker’