by Andrew Elliott – 8 Aug 2017
Andrew Elliott can be found here: https://gab.ai/AndrewElliott
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
(Quote from George Santayana)
It has become a commonplace for people, journalists in particular, to observe the Trump/Russia allegations and the Robert Mueller investigation and to compare it to the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon. It is my suspicion that the parallels are indeed strong but not for the reasons that the President’s opponents think.
There have been many books about Watergate, including by defenders of Nixon. “The Real Watergate Scandal” by Geoff Shepard is unusual in that it is a history book written in the form of a legal case, specifically a case for the defence in the Watergate cover up trial.
Geoff Shepard joined the staff of the Nixon White House directly after Harvard Law School and ended up as Deputy Defence Counsel on the Watergate case. In writing this volume Shepard makes clear he sees himself as continuing his job of presenting the legal case for the defense of Nixon and his associates, although his clients have long since passed away. Shepard spends little time talking about the details of the break in, or about what might have been the motives for it or the original Watergate trials. Instead he focuses almost wholly on the case against Nixon’s top aides H R Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and John Mitchell.
Shepard documents in detail how all thoughts of blind disinterested justice were cast aside by politically motivated judges and prosecutors, in particular the Watergate Special Prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski and Federal Judge John Sirica, and replaced with the overriding goal to “get Nixon” at all costs.
The evidence thought by many to be the key evidence of Nixon’s involvement in the cover-up and which was the final catalyst for Nixon’s resignation was the so called smoking gun tape. Shepard shows how the tape actually establishes nothing of the kind and wasn’t even the evidence that was being used as the basis of the prosecution of the time.
The key evidence that was being used was the testimony of Jeb Magruder and especially John Dean. They had both been involved in the original cover up and Dean had also embezzled campaign funds for his personal use. They were both eager to become prosecution witnesses and to tell prosecutors what they wanted to hear. What the prosecutors wanted to hear was that Nixon and his top cronies had been up to their necks in the cover up.
The trouble was that Dean and Magruder weren’t very good witnesses. At the earlier “Vesco” Watergate trial John Mitchell and Maurice Stans were acquitted of obstruction of justice charges in part because of jury reaction to Dean’s testimony. In the words of one juror in an interview after the trial quoted by Shepard “I don’t want to say Mr. Dean was lying, but he was often unbelievable”. If defence lawyers at the later trial had been able to make the case before an impartial jury and even-handed judge that Dean and Magruder were simply two criminals who had changed their stories at the prompting of a politically motivated prosecution in exchange for avoiding prison time, if the President’s own lawyers had been able to make that case, then the outcome could have been very different. Jaworski and Sirica bent and broke the law to ensure that that didn’t happen.
Shepard details the way that the Judge and prosecutors improperly and illegally colluded, the political motivated nature of the prosecution, how Sirica co-ordinated with prosecutors to appoint himself judge in the case and to stack the appeal court. He discusses how prosecutors illegally hid from defence lawyers how their key witnesses had changed their stories (in Magruder’s case an amazing 40 times), how Sirica fraudulently hid the sentencing deal that had been done with the same witnesses and how he ensured that the jury was stacked against the defendants. Its a shocking case of prosecutorial and judicial abuse and I would thoroughly recommend this fascinating volume.
It was essentially the same prosecution case and witnesses that were key to the House Judiciary Committee in their investigation and impeachment efforts, efforts that eventually lead to the resignation of Nixon. Key to the getting rid of Nixon and burnishing the credibility of the testimony that accused him was the mainstream media of America at the time. The role of the Washington Post is famous, of course, but most of the mainstream media of the time were hostile to Nixon and even those that defended Nixon prior to the publication of the White House tapes did not question the good faith of the investigation or the fairness of the legal processes. It was that that was crucial to persuading the American (and international) public of Nixon’s guilt.
In the present case we see two crucial differences. A massively changed media environment where the 1974 mainstream media oligopoly has broken down and a President willing to publicly question the fairness and good faith of both prosecutors and the court.
For those that wish to defend the American President now it is crucial to learn from history. Never should it be conceded that the prosecutors in the present case are anything other than politically motivated and working in bad faith, never should it be allowed that any planned prosecutions that follow this are going to be anything other than legal travesties masquerading as blind justice, legal travesties which are designed for nothing more or less than to get at the President through others. Nixon’s name is still blackened nearly half a century later because there was no one at the time to make these points loud and clear to the public. That’s why its crucial to learn what happened in the past so as to not be condemned to repeat it.
What do you think? Was it a politically motivated prosecution? Please leave a comment below.