Trump echoes Richard Nixon and Watergate as he slams 'partisan investigations' in his State of the Union

Key Points
  • In his State of the Union speech, President Trump referred to "partisan investigations," which drew immediate comparisons to just one other modern president: Richard Nixon.
  • "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way!" Trump said.
  • Nixon, in his final State of the Union speech, called for an end to the Watergate investigation that ultimately led him to resign more than six months later.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) looks through a copy of the speech as U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his second State of the Union address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 5, 2019.
Leah Millis | Reuters

President Donald Trump in his second State of the Union address to Congress echoed another embattled president, Richard Nixon, as he implicitly called for an end to the investigations plaguing his administration and his campaign.

"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States," Trump proclaimed Tuesday night. "And the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations."

He continued: "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way!"

Several viewers immediately saw in Trump's remarks a clear parallel to Nixon.

In his final State of the Union address in 1974, Nixon called for an end to the sprawling investigation by a special prosecutor and a special Senate committee that was then roiling his administration — two years after he secretly launched an effort to cover up the White House's connection to a botched burglary at the Democratic National Committee's offices in the Watergate Hotel.

But where Trump avoided mentioning his threat by name, Nixon addressed Watergate head on.

"I would like to add a personal word with regard to an issue that has been of great concern to all Americans over the past year. I refer, of course, to the investigations of the so-called Watergate affair," Nixon said in the speech.

"As you know, I have provided to the special prosecutor voluntarily a great deal of material. I believe that I have provided all the material that he needs to conclude his investigations and to proceed to prosecute the guilty and to clear the innocent."

"I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end," Nixon said. "One year of Watergate is enough."

A week after Nixon's speech, the House passed a resolution that authorized the Judiciary Committee to investigate his possible impeachment. Six months after that, Nixon resigned as the nation's 37th president as he saw his impeachment was inevitable, and his conviction by the Senate more than likely.

In his speech Tuesday, Trump quickly moved on from the subject, not naming his current and prospective investigators.

Those include special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing probe of Russia's 2016 election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign; recently reported subpoenas of his inaugural committee by federal prosecutors in New York who were already investigating his real estate company; congressional Democrats' investigations into various Trump administration figures and actions; and the New York attorney general's probe of Trump's foundation.

Democratic lawmakers quickly drew their own conclusions about Trump's intentions.

"His call for an end to the Russia investigation is yet another effort to derail and even obstruct or avoid any accountability for potential wrongdoing," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. "That line shows all the more why the special counsel must do a report with all the facts and evidence and disclose it directly to the American people."

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Trump's State of the Union comments went further than those of Nixon's even if Trump did not name his adversaries.

"In Nixon's case, at least he had the self-restraint to wait until the end of the speech. In Trump's case it came very early on," Beschloss said on MSNBC on Wednesday.

"And it was tied to a threat," he continued.

"For all the State of the Union addresses I know of, I have never heard a president deliver a threat like that," Beschloss said. "You know, 'Unless you relieve me of these so-called ridiculous partisan investigations, there's not going to be any legislation.' That's a new one."