Trump, the Russians, Watergate and Déjà vu all over again


The Trump Russia story is entertainment for political junkies. But it is deadly serious business. Russia's president Putin sees weaknesses in the American system. He views America's freedom of the press, first amendment rights of free speech and free and open elections as weaknesses that make America more vulnerable to disruptive fake news in the age of the internet and social web pages.

And when Putin sees an opportunity to stick it to the Americans, he goes at it with a vengeance. It may lead to an American constitutional crisis.

I arrived in Washington, DC in the summer of 1973 just as a similar crisis of constitutional proportions was about to explode on the scene. President Richard Nixon was into the first year of his second term as President of the United States, having defeated his Democratic opponent, George McGovern, in a landslide victory. That time, just as this time, the actions that led to constitutional crisis happened, or allegedly happened in the Trump case, during the presidential campaign. The Nixon crisis, Watergate, named after the hotel, condominium and office complex across the street from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, was also totally fascinating and entertaining, but also a deadly serious business.

Watergate was about a break-in by Nixon operatives to the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters to steal copies of documents and to bug the phones. The break-in was a criminal offense, but not necessarily a constitutional crisis. It became a crisis because of the cover up and the willingness of Nixon to lie, to raise money to bribe perpetrators to keep their mouths shut and to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox and his team who were trying to get to the bottom of the scandal. In the end, Nixon, threatened with impeachment and losing the support of his Republican cohorts in the House and Senate, resigned the presidency in 1974.

In 1973 there was no CNN, Fox News or MSNBC, but that didn't prevent non-stop TV coverage of the daily developments of the Watergate scandal and Congressional hearings that eventually uncovered the Nixon recordings that caught Nixon on tape with the details of his and his conspirators actions. In 1973 daily coverage of the events rotated among the only three major TV networks- ABC, CBS and NBC. I can still hear the words echo in my ear, "What did the President know and when did he know it?" These words spoken by Howard Baker from Tennessee, minority leader of Senate Republicans were courageous, coming from a Republican Senator about a Republican president who had been elected a second term in a landslide.

The Watergate crisis was a constitutional crisis that involved hush money to protect the President of the United States, bribes to participants in a crime to keep them from possibly testifying to law enforcement agents and to the courts and to Congress.

The Trump Russia story may be leading to a constitutional crisis potentially more damaging than Watergate was to our democracy. Watergate ended up in a win for our system. President Nixon and his administration was caught and exposed by our free press and its anonymous inside sources and in the end both major political parties cooperated to bring the crisis to an end. Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment and conviction, and Gerald Ford, Nixon's Vice President and a decent and honorable politician with experience, took over the presidency, calming America's nerves.

The Trump Russia story involves a foreign country led by an autocrat that is hostile to our nation and its system of democratic constitutional government dedicated to free speech and freedom of the press and equal rights. If as it turns out that Trump and his cronies and relatives actively sought help from and aided the Russians in tampering with our electoral system and spreading doubt about responsible journalism in our system of a free press, that could be far more serious and long lasting than any criminally self serving behavior sponsored by the Nixon administration.

And if it turns out that Trump and his close associates and relatives had nothing to do with the Russian meddling in our elections, it is still a serious crisis for American democracy. Trump, as President of the United States, should be wanting to get to the bottom of it, to seek ways to prevent Russia or any other foreign power from ever doing it again. That Trump appears to be unconcerned about Russian meddling speaks volumes about his possible culpability.

References:

About the Watergate scandal at https://www.vox.com/2014/8/7/5970967/what-was-watergate-scandal-nixon

About Russia and fake anti Hillary Clinton stories:

The FBI tracked election day anti Hilary Clinton fake news stories

http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/04/politics/election-day-cyber-threat-fbi-monitoring/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/russian-propaganda-effort-helped-spread-fake-news-during-election-experts-say/2016/11/24/793903b6-8a40-4ca9-b712-716af66098fe_story.html?utm_term=.9aa7e97d8a18

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