One of the high points of the
Most people get their news from television, yet there has hardly been any explanation of what the Watergate scandal was. This is of particular concern, given that roughly half the
But there is another scenario. Impeachment and/or prosecution could have shown Americans that no person is above the law, that all governments must be held accountable.
Let’s review the history: Nixon was running for re-election in 1972 against anti-war Sen. George McGovern of
Investigative reporting, congressional hearings and the appointment of a special prosecutor followed. The existence of audiotapes of conversations in the Oval Office was revealed. A defiant Nixon refused to hand over the tapes. When the special prosecutor refused to drop his subpoena, Nixon ordered him fired. His attorney general and deputy attorney general refused, and resigned. His solicitor general, Robert Bork (whom the Senate would later nix as a Supreme Court justice), obeyed. A congressional committee drew up articles of impeachment on three counts: obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress. The U.S. Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over the tapes to the new special prosecutor. Within the tapes was the famous “smoking gun.” Nixon was caught on tape conspiring to cover up the Watergate break-in. Nixon’s remaining congressional support evaporated. With impeachment imminent, the disgraced president resigned.
John Dean, Nixon’s White House counsel, became the star witness of the Senate investigation. He linked Nixon not only to the cover-up, but also to the criminal break-in of the psychiatrist’s office of Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg. In an exclusive “Democracy Now!” broadcast with Ellsberg and Dean, the two former antagonists spoke together on national television for the first time. They described other dirty schemes planned but not acted on, such as “incapacitating” Ellsberg, and firebombing The Brookings Institution.
Watergate occurred within the context of the Vietnam War and the growing domestic demand for withdrawal. The scandal itself is a story of an unchecked, secretive executive willing to abuse power to stay in office at all costs. When the break-in was exposed, McGovern referred to the conduct as “quasi-fascistic.”
For Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Nixon’s resignation was an opportunity: Ford made Rumsfeld his chief of staff, with Cheney as his assistant. When Rumsfeld moved over to secretary of defense, Cheney became chief of staff. George H.W. Bush was named director of Central Intelligence. Journalist Robert Parry describes the Ford administration as the “incubator” of the current Bush administration.
If those emerging power brokers had witnessed a vigorous prosecution of Nixon and his co-conspirators, it could have elevated the country … and changed history. Perhaps a decade later, the Reagan-Bush administration would have thought twice about the Iran-Contra scandal, in which an unaccountable administration would defy Congress and illegally support the Contras in
As the nation buries President Ford, let’s not let the
Amy Goodman hosts the radio news program “Democracy Now!” Distributed by King Features Syndicate.
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