Opinion

This is Not Watergate: Why Trump’s 2018 Russia Investigation Isn’t the same as Nixon’s 1974 Watergate Investigation

President Nixon with his edited transcripts of the White House Tapes subpoenaed by the Special Prosecutor, during his speech to the Nation on Watergate

Just as 2018 is not 1974, the investigation into Trump-Russia collusion isn’t Watergate. In the hyperbole of the current political climate, this fact remains Watergate uncovered far more information far more quickly than Robert Mueller’s investigation has. 

This may change, though. In a world where no one, from the investigators to those under investigation, can protect themselves from leaks, it’s doubtful there’ll be many bombshells when the investigation concludes. 

Regardless, whenever impeachment is openly discussed, it becomes a good time to examine the last president to resign

The Watergate saga began with the arrest of “the plumbers” while they were breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters June 17, 1972. Within three months, the burglars, some of whom had direct links to the White House, were indicted by a federal grand jury. 

Their trial began before former President Richard Nixon had sworn into his second term, and it produced little of today’s ambiguity, with the jury finding the burglars guilty in a mere ninety minutes.

The following month was a whirlwind of indictments, as charges of perjury and illegal activity flew through the White House. Numerous staffers were forced out in quick succession and highly televised Senate hearings had begun by May, closely followed by the appointment of a special prosecutor. 

During Watergate, there were seven guilty verdicts before the special prosecutor was even appointed, followed by two additional convictions and eight indictments, all directly related to Watergate. 

In less than five months, Nixon fired the special prosecutor, who had extensive evidence, resulting in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.” On Oct. 20, 1973,  Nixon fired multiple high-level officials of the Justice Department; however, that did little to stem the tide of indictments. Staffer after staffer pleaded guilty to everything under the sun, from conspiracy to bribery, and numerous tapes were discovered that directly implicated the president. 

Impeachment proceedings began by May. Former President Gerald Ford was president by August.

In total, it was just over two years from the break-in to the end of Nixon’s presidency, which prompts the question: If things are so similar this time, why is it taking so long? In Mueller’s two years of investigations has produced only two pleas relating to collusion. 

One involves George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign aide who set up a meeting with a Russian lawyer claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. It was quickly discovered that this lawyer did not have the connections or the information she promised, and the meeting instead turned to the actual topic she wanted to discuss: adoption of Russian babies. 

The other plea came from Michael Flynn, who plead guilty to lying about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador. Before he lied to the FBI, however, he lied to the vice president, resulting in him being fired for directly lying to the administration about his activities.

This isn’t to say nothing has been found, as both of these pleas are problematic. After all, Mueller’s team has uncovered the decades-old dealings of Paul Manafort and the legally-dubious accounting of Michael Cohen; though, neither of these cases involve collusion, and, after two years, it’s increasingly starting to look like concrete evidence might not exist. 

Evidential veracity is the main thing separating Mueller from Watergate. Before the investigation, Republicans supported Nixon in greater numbers than they ever supported Trump. Nixon even won reelection in 1972 with an unheard of 60 percent of the vote. But within two years, due to overwhelming evidence against him, that support dropped to as low as 20 percent.  

Nixon lost more than the support of voters, as, over a year before impeachment, the Senate voted 77-0 in favor of creating a committee to look into Watergate, and, despite the 66 vote supermajority needed to impeach. As such, many Republicans publicly switched sides, and Nixon still wasn’t willing to chance a vote, as he had lost the support of his own party. 

Trump, on the other hand, continues to have the support of the Republicans on Capitol Hill, which is because of the lack of solid evidence against him. While the investigation has discovered wrong-doing, little of what has been found relates to collusion, and none of it directly implicates Trump. Unless that evidence is found, 2018 will continue to look very different from 1974.

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