Tag Archives: Watergate

Actually, POTUS can ‘obstruct justice’

I am not qualified to argue points of law with a lawyer, but I’ll take a brief moment to challenge a political point that Donald J. Trump’s lawyer has asserted about the president of the United States.

John Dowd says that the president “cannot obstruct justice” because “he is the chief law enforcement officer under (the Constitution’s Article II) and has every right to express his view of any case.”

I beg to differ. Dowd is old enough to remember Watergate and the trouble that President Nixon got into when he sought to obstruct justice in that investigation.

Obstruction at issue

Indeed, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s articles of impeachment against the president included an accusation of “obstruction of justice.” Nixon was toast at that point.

He chose to resign the presidency rather than face certain impeachment in the House and virtually certain conviction in a Senate trial.

So, can Donald Trump “obstruct justice” if the special counsel determines he did so by firing FBI director James Comey over that “Russia thing”?

I believe he can.

Are we more divided than ever?

I am old enough to have lived through some deep national divisions.

* We have the Vietnam War that tore us into two camps: Hawks vs. Doves. The Hawks wanted to fight the war to a battlefield victory; the Doves wanted out of that conflict. Riots erupted in our streets. Blood flowed.

* Then came Watergate. A team of goofballs sought to break into the Democratic National Committee offices. They were arrested and charged with burglary. Then it went downhill from there. President Nixon’s re-election committee became involved. The president sought to cover it up. Republicans stood behind the president; Democrats wanted his political head to roll. The president resigned.

* After that, President Clinton faced impeachment. Why? Ostensibly it was because he lied to a grand jury about his relationship with That Woman. Republicans were looking for a reason to impeach him. The president gave it to them. Republicans detested Clinton from the beginning of his presidency. Democrats stood firmly with him. The Senate acquitted Clinton.

* And then we had the 2000 election. President Bush was elected despite getting fewer popular votes than Vice President Al Gore. It came down to Florida’s results. They started recounting the ballots. The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to stop the recount. Bush was elected with 537 votes to spare in Florida. He won the state’s electoral votes. Republicans hailed the victory; many Democrats never quite got over it.

All of those prior divisions seem to pale in comparison to what we’re witnessing now. Donald J. Trump won on a platform that preached nativism, nationalism, populism. It’s us against them. He vowed to “put America first” and to “make America great again.”

He also vowed to “unify” the nation.

The president has done nothing of the sort. Indeed, it strikes me that he’s deliberately sought to do precisely the opposite. He keeps re-litigating the election, which he won! He keeps picking needless fights with pro football players who protest police practices, with media representatives, with Gold Star families.

This is how you unify the country?

Just today, the president lined up with a GOP Senate candidate who’s been accused of sexual assault on children. Why is that? Because he’s not a Democrat! The president’s base adores this kind of rhetoric. It doesn’t matter how divisive it is and how it contradicts what the president himself vowed to do after winning a bitter, contentious, hateful campaign.

I can speak only for the eras I have witnessed. This era’s division seems deeper than anything I have watched in the past 50 years.

The worst element of this division is that its catalyst occupies the White House.

Senators concerned about POTUS and the nukes

More than 40 years ago, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked some tough questions about the president of the United States’ fitness to be in command of the nuclear launch codes.

President Richard Nixon was being swallowed up by the Watergate crisis. Questions arose about whether the president would do something foolish in a moment of intense political anguish.

Concerns arise once again

Flash forward. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee of today is now concerned, apparently, with the current president’s ability to handle this awesome responsibility. Senators didn’t come to any conclusions or seek any substantial change in the policy, but they got to air their concerns on the record about Donald John Trump.

As Politico reports: “We are concerned that the president of the United States is so unstable, is so volatile, has a decision-making process that is so quixotic that he might order a nuclear weapons strike that is wildly out of step with U.S. national security interests,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing that yielded few clear answers about checks on the commander in chief’s power. “Let’s just recognize the exceptional nature of this moment.”

Though Republicans were not as vocal about their concern, some did express worry that one person alone can make the decision to launch a nuclear war.

The president hasn’t yet demonstrated the complete understanding of command and control. He keeps popping off via Twitter, threatening North Korea with destruction.

And oh yes, the president has virtually sole authority to launch nuclear weapons. The policy was designed during the Cold War when the United States need a quick response in case the Soviet Union decided to launch missiles against us.

The Cold War is over, although the peril of a nuclear strike remains acute, given the enormous number of nuclear-armed nations around the world.

Which requires a U.S. president to be of sound temperament and judgment. The Senate panel today sought to explore those issues today as it relates to the current commander in chief.

Given the president’s behavior and the goofiness of his public pronouncements, senators have ample reason to wonder out loud about the commander in chief’s ability to keep us safe.

‘The Constitution works’

The hour is late, but I cannot let this day pass without commenting briefly on a monumental event in our nation’s political history.

This single-sentence document is President Nixon’s resignation letter to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As someone noted on social media, it could fit into tweet.

The Watergate scandal came to a conclusion with this note. The president said goodbye to the White House staff, shook hands with the new president, Gerald Ford, then boarded Marine One with his wife, Pat, and flew off into political oblivion.

It’s worth mentioning yet again, I suppose, because of the current president’s troubles. There’s been no shortage of comparison to what doomed the 37th president’s tenure to what we’re witnessing today in real time.

I am not going to predict a similar end to Donald Trump’s tenure.

I merely want to recall what President Ford said shortly after taking the oath of office 43 years ago today.

“The Constitution works,” the president reminded us.

Yes, that governing document gives me great comfort as we watch the current drama play out … no matter how it all ends.

Trump channeling Nixon?

The Washington media chatterers keep making comparisons between Donald John Trump and Richard Milhous Nixon.

They note certain symmetry between the two presidents of the United States. President Nixon became involved in covering up the Watergate break-in just days after it occurred. How do we know that? It was all tape-recorded. Trump, meanwhile, is now being accused of covering up his own involvement with Russians who reportedly meddled in our 2016 presidential election.

The difference between the men’s conduct, though, is stark in one important aspect. Nixon got into trouble near the end of his first term; he would be re-elected in a landslide in 1972, and then the crap really hit the fan. Trump has been president only for a few months; he still has years to go before the end of his current term — and the crap is beginning to hit the fan already.

I am not going to predict that Trump’s presidency will end the way Nixon’s did. The lies, dissembling, the switching of stories, the dramatic and drastic personnel changes at the highest levels of executive governance all are beginning to alarm many of us.

John Kelly stepped with both feet into this maelstrom when he became the new White House chief of staff this week. He scored a big victory in his first hours on the job by getting communications director Anthony “Mooch” Scaramucci booted out of the White House. Whether that initial move portends better days, weeks and months ahead at the White House remains a gaping, open question.

The Nixon comparisons only are going to mount with every revelation that is revealed. As Ruth Marcus notes in her Washington Post column, the White House is imploding.

It’s almost impossible for me to grasp the notion that all of this is happening at the very beginning of Donald Trump’s term as president. What in the world lies ahead?

Is there a Howard Baker out there?

The great Howard Baker asked a question for the ages in 1974.

“What did the president know,” the late Republican U.S. senator from Tennessee asked, “and when did he know it?”

Baker was serving as vice chairman — and ranking Republican — of the U.S. Senate select committee that was investigating the Watergate scandal that eventually forced President Nixon to resign and sent several of his top aides to prison.

The question came during one of the many hearings the committee was conducting to ferret out the truth of what was blown off initially as a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.

I know that pundits have posed the question. I also have heard some pols ask it in the context of conversation.

But now we are being faced with the same scenario that confronted President Nixon and his top campaign and White House aides. It involves a meeting involving Donald J. Trump Jr., Jared Kushner (son-in-law of the president), and Paul Manafort, head of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign. They met with a Russian lawyer who sent them all an email advising them that the Russian government had some dirt on Hillary Rodham Clinton it wanted to pass on to the Trump campaign.

The revelation of the email now focuses investigators more sharply on whether the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian officials who were hacking into our electoral system, seeking to undermine Clinton’s effort to defeat Trump.

Did the three men — two of whom are members of the Republican presidential candidate’s family — advise the Big Man of the meeting in advance?

What did the president know during the campaign and when did he know it?

I am awaiting that question to come in some formal venue — say, at a congressional hearing. I also am awaiting the president’s answer.

Is there another Howard Baker out there among congressional Republicans who would dare ask that question?

A ‘malignant presidency’?

Carl Bernstein knows a political malignancy when he sees one.

The famed journalist and author believes he is witnessing one at the moment that well might be metastasizing before our eyes.

Those of us of a certain age who pursued journalism as a career owe that choice in large part to the work that Bernstein did along with his Washington Post colleague and pal Robert Woodward. Together they uncovered the Mother of All Scandals that erupted in the wake of that “third-rate burglary” at the Watergate office complex in June 1972.

That was then. Bernstein is still in the game, although now as an author and TV news pundit/contributor.

Bernstein takes a hyper-dim view of what is transpiring with Donald J. Trump, the current president of the United States. According to CNN.com: “We’re in foreign territory,” Bernstein said, speaking on CNN’s “New Day.” “We have never been in a malignant presidency like this before. It calls on our leaders, it calls on our journalists to do a different kind of reporting, a different kind of dealing with this presidency and the President.”

Bernstein sounds fearful of where this might all end up with the president. The Russia probe, the alleged conflicts of business interest, the nepotism, the failure to unite the nation, the incessant tweeting and the tirades against the media, the incessant stream-of-consciousness lying … it’s all part and parcel of Trump’s still-developing presidency.

How does Trump govern? That seems to be the major question shadowing the president as he lurches from crisis to crisis.

He threatens members of his own party who don’t support his effort to replace the Affordable Care Act. Upon whom can he depend in Congress to have his back if he unleashes his venom against fellow Republicans? The president is about to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, a man he’s never seen up close. Still, Trump continues to refuse to accept what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded, which is that Putin and his gang of goons sought to influence the 2016 election outcome.

I’m pretty sure he carries a substantial anti-Trump bias as he offers his analysis of the current political climate. However, I am not going to dismiss this guy’s view out of hand.

Instead, I accept his challenge to the media in this country to stand up to the president and to do the job they are entitled to do, which is to hold the president accountable for his words and deeds.

As Bernstein said: “We have to … be kind of medical reporters right now. I don’t mean about the president’s psyche, but rather about every aspect of his presidency, and how and whether it is functioning, because many aspects are not functioning.”

Most toxic ever? Well … it’s a different type of toxicity

An acquaintance of mine posed a question to me today. Since he asked it in a public social media venue, I’ll answer it here.

He wondered: “Has it always been this toxic? Or are we entering a new era?” The “it” to which he referred is the political atmosphere.

I’ve thought about it for several hours and I’ve concluded that it’s more likely a “new era” than the most toxic ever.

This fellow seems to think I’m an expert on political matters. I’m not. I am, however, a 67-year-old red-blooded American patriot who’s been witness to a lot of anger, anxiety, fear and loathing in the halls of power.

One highly toxic era occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first trigger was the Vietnam War, followed immediately — and in a related sort of way — the Watergate scandal. I served in that war for a time, came home and then got involved politically as a newly married college student.

Politicians were angry at each other because of their respective views on the war. That anger spilled into the streets. People died during riots. Then came Kent State in 1970 when National Guard troops opened fire and killed four student protesters. The nation was grief-stricken.

The Watergate break-in — in June 1972 — stirred Americans even more. The scandal that ensued threatened to swallow the nation in one big bite. It didn’t. The U.S. Constitution did its job; a congressional committee approved articles of impeachment against President Nixon, who then quit.

There was plenty of anger then, too.

Two decades later, a newly elected president became the focus of intense Republican anger. The GOP detested President Clinton. Republicans won control of Congress in 1994 and began their quest to get rid of him. They hired a special counsel, who then stumbled onto a discovery: the president’s relationship with a young White House intern. The counsel summoned the president, made him swear to tell the “whole truth” to a grand jury; the president didn’t uphold that oath when he was asked about the intern.

There you go. Impeachment proceedings began. Was there intense anger then? Uh, yeah. The air was poisoned by partisan bias. The House impeached President Clinton in 1998, but the Senate acquitted him in a trial.

Now comes the Donald John Trump era. The air is toxic. It’s full of bitterness. Democrats cannot stand the very idea of this guy being elected president of the United States. The president’s core supporters are firing back, telling Trump foes to get over it; he won fair and square.

Another special counsel is now on the job. He’s researching whether the president had an improper relationship with Russian government officials. The president has impugned the integrity of the political system, the nation’s intelligence network that has concluded Russians sought to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s tweet storms have infuriated his foes, energized his friends.

The president cannot seem to tell the whole truth. The only difference between this president’s penchant for prevarication and Bill Clinton is that Trump hasn’t lied under oath … yet.

Trump’s candidacy for president ushered in a new political era. His election as president hammered it all home. The reaction to his election has generated yet another storm the likes of which many of us never have seen.

Is it the worst ever? I won’t say that. It damn sure feels like something brand new.

Watergate: Dumbest scandal in U.S. history

Many of us are going to mark the 45th anniversary of the start of the Watergate scandal in varying ways.

Those of us of a certain age might take time to reflect on what I consider to be the most stupid, unnecessary and ridiculous political scandal of the 20th century.

On June 17, 1972, five idiots broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.; they rifled through some cabinets, pilfered some papers and then left.

Then came the cover-up. President Nixon sought to call off the investigation being done by the FBI. It all led to the president’s pending impeachment and then his resignation from office.

Why so stupid? So pointless? So needless?

Because the president was en route to a smashing re-election victory later that year. On Nov. 7, 1972, Nixon was re-elected with a 49-state landslide over Sen. George McGovern. He won more than 60 percent of the popular vote: 47 million votes to 29 million votes. That’s an 18-million vote margin!

Every political expert in America knew Nixon would win. They knew he’d win big. Sen. McGovern didn’t have a prayer. I received my political baptism that year working for McGovern in my home state of Oregon, helping register first-time voters among college students in Multnomah County. I, too, was a college student. I also had separated from the Army in August 1970 and had served for a time in Vietnam. I wanted the war to end and I supported McGovern’s candidacy.

But McGovern’s candidacy was doomed. Nixon’s team knew it. So did McGovern’s team.

I am left to wonder 45 years after that ridiculous break-in: What in the hell did the Committee to Re-Elect the President hope to gain from such a stupid stunt?

CREEP blew it, causing their guy — the president — to try to cover it up and it all cost him his job as leader of the free world. And for what purpose?

If they ever create a college curriculum to study “Stupid Political Scandals,” Watergate must serve as the all-time benchmark for stupidity.

Impeachment? Not likely with this Congress

John Podesta knows a thing or two about impeachment. He served as White House chief of staff for a president who was impeached by the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate.

Podesta has looked at the political landscape and reports that he doesn’t see impeachment on the horizon for Donald J. Trump.

I have to agree with his assessment.

The issue is the makeup of the body that would file articles of impeachment.

Podesta seems to think, according to his comments to the Washington Post, that Trump might deserve to be impeached, but he doesn’t think the current House has the guts to do it. He allegedly sought to quash an FBI investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia. The Justice Department has assigned a special counsel to look at the matter.

Consider the 20th century’s two big impeachment moments.

* One of them occurred in 1974. The House was in control of Democrats. The president, Richard Nixon, was a Republican. Nixon stood accused of obstructing justice in the Watergate scandal. The House Judiciary Committee, with its Democratic majority, approved articles of impeachment and referred them to the full House.

President Nixon’s impeachment was a done deal. It took a stern lecture from the late Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater to persuade the president to give up the fight; Nixon quit the presidency the next day.

* The other occurred in 1998. Republicans controlled the House and the Senate. The special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, began his probe by looking at a real estate matter involving President Clinton and his wife, Hillary — both of whom are Democrats. He expanded it to include an extramarital dalliance the president was having with a young woman. He summoned the president to testify before a federal grand jury; the president was untruthful.

He was impeached on obstruction and perjury charges. The Senate acquitted him. Again, politics — just as it did in 1974 — played a role in moving the impeachment forward.

Would the Republicans who control Congress have the stones to impeach a fellow Republican who also happens to be president? Podesta doesn’t think so. Neither do I.

Impeachment is a political exercise in the extreme. Sure, the members of Congress talk a good game about seeking justice, to punish the president for committing “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The reality is that it all rests on politics.

The previous century provided ample evidence of the politics associated with this serious matter. I have no reason to believe — at least not yet — that anything has changed.