If the White House is haunted — Churchill supposedly saw Lincoln's ghost when he was getting out of the bathtub — then there's a case to be made that Richard Nixon's ghost whispers in Donald Trump's ear, as Trump appears to be taking his playbook directly from Tricky Dick. Maybe that explains the chilling similarities between Watergate and Russiagate as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Nixon's resignation on Aug. 8.
Watergate gave us the lazy media habit of attaching "gate" to even the most prosaic wrongdoing, from Billygate, when Jimmy Carter's hapless brother got himself hired to represent Libya, to the epic list of Clintonian gates, from Filegate and Travelgate to Pardongate and Troopergate, not to mention the seemingly quaint, horny simplicity of Zippergate (or, to some, Monicagate).
Beyond a simple suffix connecting Russiagate to Watergate, how much does Trump's White House have in common with that of Richard Nixon?
Both Nixon and Trump were resentful and insecure, with Nixon always seething over the media's adulation of John F. Kennedy and Trump continually relitigating his (electoral-college only) win over Hillary Clinton. Trump Tweets accusations of "Fake news!" at the national media, while Nixon dispatched his vice president, Spiro T. Agnew, to attack journalists with the much more alliterative, "nattering nabobs of negativism."
Dig a little deeper, though, and more disturbing echoes of Watergate ring through Russiagate:
Victory through foreign meddling: Whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russian interests, the campaign was at least the beneficiary of what national security agencies characterize as Russian attempts to influence the election with inflammatory online reports targeting Hillary Clinton. All that, however, is patty-cake compared with the foreign influence the 1968 Nixon campaign mustered.
According to recently discovered records, during the 1968 presidential campaign Nixon directed his close aide H.R. Haldeman to "monkey wrench" the Paris Peace Talks to end the Vietnam War, fearing that a successful negotiation to end the bloody and hugely unpopular conflict would boost the campaign of Democratic presidential contender Hubert Humphrey.
Through anti-communist China connections, Nixon's campaign encouraged the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, to resist the peace effort because Nixon would cut Thieu a better deal. According to notes from the Nixon estate uncovered by John A. Farrell in, "Richard Nixon: The Life," one of Nixon's intermediaries promised the South Vietnamese ambassador, "Hold on, we are gonna win."
Everybody must get Stone: If there's anything that points to a dark, malevolent strain of Republican DNA running through both the Nixon and Trump operations, it's the total fealty of Roger Stone to both men.
Stone started out as a scheduler and low-level dirty trickster in the Nixon White House, but maintains he had nothing to do with Watergate-related activities and, anyway, the entire Watergate crisis was a set-up by the CIA and others, Stone claims. Nonetheless, a stint on Sen. Robert Dole's staff was cut short when Stone's campaign dirty tricks were exposed during Congressional hearings in 1973.
Stone parlayed his Nixon worship – he sports a large back tattoo of the 37th president – into a career as a Republican staffer and leader of Youth for Reagan (where he met Trump mentor Roy Cohn). Later, Stone became a lobbyist, founding his own firm with eventual Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and late Republican strategist Lee Atwater.
Stone formed an anti-Hillary Clinton PAC called Citizens United Not Timid (classy acronym, no?) during the 2008 primary season, including a website offering T-shirts with a logo resembling a woman's crotch, according to Mother Jones. How do you top that, unless it's becoming an adviser to the Trump campaign and encouraging Trump to hire Manafort as a campaign manager, which Stone also did.
Stone has claimed to have directly or indirectly communicated with Wikileaks during Hackergate (there's that suffix, again), the phishing expedition that produced stolen emails from the Clinton campaign.
Both Stone and Manafort are reported to already have surrendered documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into foreign interference with the presidential election, a Congressional investigation that would seem to complete the circle of Russiagate with the scandal of Watergate.
The Smoking Guns: Nixon's smoking gun was his own words on the White House tapes as he ordered the FBI to drop its investigation into the burglary at Democratic National Headquarters. When members of the Watergate Committee heard this, there was no longer any question about, "What did the President know and when did he know it?"
In the case of Russiagate, the first of what could be several smoking guns was fired by Donald Trump's own son, Donald Jr., who saw no issue with receiving dirt on Hilary Clinton that was said to come from the Russian government itself. "I love it," he responded in an email.
The lesson here is that leaving your children alone around loaded guns – even figuratively smoking ones – always ends in disaster. In this case, a game of Russian roulette.
A family affair: Trump's daughter, Ivanka, is his special assistant with White House clearance who replaces him in G20 meetings, while his son takes secret meetings with Russian "agents" that he forgets to mention in his security application (as does his sister and his brother-in-law in their own applications).
In this area, Trump definitely has one-upped Tricky Dick, whose daughters were restricted to simply running diversions for Daddy during the Watergate months. Nixon used poor Tricia Nixon Cox's White House wedding as a smoke screen in June of 1971. It didn't work.
But it was Julie Nixon Eisenhower who emerged as a role model for Ivanka Trump. When Pat Nixon couldn't face the press, Julie worked the room so often that it prompted journalist Nora Ephron to remark, "In the months since the Watergate hearings, she has become her father's … First Lady in practice if not in fact."
Julie Nixon Eisenhower gave an impressive 138 press conferences defending her father during the Watergate scandal, including some right after she was recovering from the removal of an ovarian cyst. Meanwhile, Ivanka Trump still is recovering from the removal of her fashion line from several retailers.
That press secretary is no longer operative: Friday's resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer after his best attempts to sputter, evade and fume through his televised press briefings at least spares "Spicey" the prolonged turmoil endured by Nixon's humorless spokesman Ronald Ziegler. Ziegler memorably denounced the Watergate break-in as "a third-rate burglary," ridiculed the House Judiciary Committee impeachment investigation as a "kangaroo court," and scaled the heights of linguistic abuse by declaring that provably false statements by Nixon "were no longer operative."
Now that Spicer is job-hunting, he might want to apply his considerable skills at narrating events in a fictional alternative universe by applying for one of Ziegler's pre-White House gigs: tour guide on the "Jungle Cruise" ride at Disneyland.
In the meantime, we're all waiting for fired FBI director James Comey to land a book deal while wondering exactly which White House staffers are next in line for unemployment, whether it's the "beleaguered" Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, or special counsel Robert Mueller.
If Trump's version of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre - which refers to Nixon's orders to fire independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox - comes to pass, it won't be just another uncanny parallel between Watergate and Russiagate but also an impeachable obstruction of justice, providing even more proof that the 45th president is channeling the malevolent spirit of the 37th, with Nixon's specter still bitterly defending his illegal actions as he whispers in Trump's ear, "When the president does it, that means that it's not illegal."
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