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From Watergate to Russiagate: from the sublime to the ridiculous

The recent string of false media stories about Russiagate shows the media’s growing desperation as proof for the Russiagate collusion allegations fails to appear

The recent string of misfires of Russiagate stories in the US media, and the growing signs of alarm amongst proponents of the Russiagate conspiracy theory in the media and elsewhere following the angry exchanges between Republican Congressmen and FBI Director Christopher Wray in the House Judiciary Committee, are symptoms of the growing desperation within the media and amongst proponents of the Russiagate conspiracy theory that the evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians that they counted on is failing to turn up.

To understand the reason for this alarm it is merely necessary to compare the time line of the Watergate scandal – the scandal which provides the benchmark for all political scandals involving US Presidents – with the progress or rather lack of it of the Russiagate scandal.

The origins of the Watergate scandal were in a meeting held in January 1972 chaired by the then Attorney General John Mitchell who as well as being President Richard Nixon’s personal friend was shortly to become the chair of Nixon’s campaign team.

The meeting – chaired by the nation’s Attorney General who is the head of the Justice Department and the US government’s most senior law officer, and also attended by White House Counsel John Dean – plotted various illegal activities to ensure President Nixon’s re-election later that year.

This meeting set in train a sequence of events which resulted in two burglaries – both obviously serious crimes – of the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate building on 28th May 1972 and 17th June 1972.

In the second of these two burglaries – the one which took place on 17th June 1972 – the burglars were caught.

Within days of the arrest of the burglars President Nixon – who almost certainly had no prior knowledge of the burglary – engaged in a conspiracy to obstruct justice by initiating a cover-up intended to conceal the connection between the Watergate burglars and the Nixon campaign.  This involved an attempt to use the CIA to block a full investigation of the burglary by the FBI, and the payment of bribes to the Watergate burglars to ensure their silence.

The cover-up was a failure.  Though it did succeed in keeping the scandal out of the media until the Presidential election was over in November, all that it in the end achieved was create a money trail leading back to the Nixon campaign which highlighted the Nixon campaign’s involvement in the burglary, as well as the fact that the Nixon administration was trying to cover the fact up (thus the famous phrase “follow the money”).

By 10th October 1972 – i.e. just four months after the start of the FBI’s investigation into the burglary and before the November election took place – the FBI was already reporting to the Justice Department that the Watergate burglary was part of a massive campaign of spying and sabotage carried out on behalf of the Nixon campaign.

Strategically placed leaks in the media by deputy FBI Director Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) between July 1972 and January 1973 kept the story alive, and following the Watergate burglars’ conviction on 30th January 1973seven months after the burglary – it became the lead story in the media.

With questions about the scandal being asked by Congress, and with the Senate setting up on 7th February 1973 – i.e. within a week of the conviction of the burglars – a special committee chaired by Senator Sam Ervin to investigate the scandal, it quickly became obvious to Nixon that those individuals who were most directly implicated in the cover-up – his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, his aide John Ehrlichman, and White House Counsel John Dean – would have to go.

Thus on 30th April 1973ten months after the burglary – with the existence of the cover-up by now public knowledge, Nixon announced Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s resignations, the dismissal of Dean, and the appointment of Special Counsel to investigate what had happened.

The sequel was that on 13th July 1973 – a year after the burglary – a White House aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a taping system in the White House.

A protracted legal battle lasting a whole year then followed to obtain the release of the tapes.  When a decision of the Supreme Court in July 1974 – two years after the burglary – finally forced the White House to release the tapes the extent of Nixon’s personal involvement in the cover-up – and therefore in the conspiracy to obstruct justice – became clear, and in August 1974 Nixon was forced to resign.

In summary, it took the FBI just four months to arrive at a clear picture of what had happened.  Within ten months – by the time of Haldeman’s and Ehrlichman’s resignations and Dean’s dismissal – the existence of the cover-up was known fact.  Within a year the existence of the evidence which would implicate Nixon himself in the cover-up (“what did the President know and when did he know it?”) had been discovered

Contrast this with the Russiagate investigation.

It is known that the Russiagate investigation began in July 2016, following Wikileaks’ publication of the DNC emails and the FBI’s initial meetings with Christopher Steele, the compiler of the Trump Dossier.  Eighteen months later it has however come up with no evidence of the conspiracy between the Trump campaign team and the Russians which it is supposed to be investigating.

This despite the fact that the investigative resources committed to the Russiagate investigation – which included surveillance of US citizens during the election – have been immeasurably greater and more intrusive than anything seen during Watergate.

What we have instead is a barely publicised admission that the Trump Dossier – the report which appears to have initiated the whole investigation and which provided its narrative frame – cannot be verified, and cannot therefore be used in court as evidence to secure convictions.

An investigation which has achieved nothing after eighteen months other than three indictments which do not touch on the crime it is supposed to be investigating – two of which were only for the process crime of lying to the FBI about matters which were not in fact crimes – is clearly an investigation which is on the wrong track.

Republicans in Congress are starting to sense this and the pressure on Mueller, the Justice Department and the FBI is now – very properly – at last building.

We should not be fooled by the outraged chorus in the media defending Mueller which is trying to argue otherwise.

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