Are there parallels between the Russian Investigation and Watergate?

Trump and Nixon

The parallels between Donald Trump’s Russia Affair and the Watergate Scandal are obviously going to be made – some are groundless – but there are elements of both that appear to have some commonalities.

The Watergate Affair was the biggest political scandal in American political history. On June 17th 1972 five burglars were caught breaking into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) headquarters which were housed in the Watergate Office complex. At the time the burglaries were first reported, it was a minor story. However, it would emerge to be the downfall of the 37th President of the United States, Richard Nixon.

When investigating the break-in, the FBI found connections between the burglars and a special fund set up to help the re-election of Richard Nixon. A subsequent investigation was launched, during which it became clear that even if Nixon had not known about the break-in, he had actively tried to cover it up. Articles of impeachment were bought against Nixon and passed by the House Judiciary Committee on the 27th July 1974. They were never voted on by the whole house – so Nixon was never impeached. Instead, he decided to jump before he was pushed – writing perhaps the worlds most famous resignation letter on the 9th August 1974.

Nixon Letter


So what parallels are there between Watergate and Russia? Firstly, there is the fact that there were two separate investigations, one congressional and one criminal, that occurred and are occurring concurrently.

The Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (unofficially called the Senate Watergate Committee) was set up in 1973 to investigate the claims that staff within the Nixon Administration had conspired in the Watergate Affair. The hearings were broadcast live on TV, with millions of Americans watching the coverage. Perhaps the most notable revelation that occurred during the investigation was the discovery that the White House had a secret taping system. Although Nixon claimed executive privilege to say that these tapes should not be handed over, the Supreme Court disagreed, ruling 9-0 that he should had the tapes to the Committee. These tapes included the so-called ‘Smoking Gun’ tape, after which Nixon could simply not claim he did not try to conspire to cover up the Watergate Affair.

Alongside the Congressional investigation was a criminal one. In May 1973 a Special Prosecutor named Archibald Cox was appointed to investigate any criminal aspects of the affair. At his most desperate point, Nixon ordered Cox fired, suggesting that he was getting close to uncovering the truth.

However, slowly figures to Nixon were charged, including the ‘Watergate 7’. One of Nixon’s biggest problems was that his former White House Counsel, John Dean, agreed to give evidence against him to the FBI. He confirmed that he and Nixon had discussed Watergate at least 30 times.


John Dean was the White House Special Counsel who turned against Nixon

 It was clear that the circle around Nixon was tightening, it continued to do so until it was tight enough to force up to resign in August 1974.

Like Watergate, there is both a congressional and criminal investigation into links between the Trump campaign team and Russians who may have illegally sought to influence the election.

A Senate investigation is being conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The investigation has not discovered a bombshell akin to the discovery of Nixon’s White House taping system. However, the Committee have confirmed that Russia unduly influence the US Presidential Election and began to investigate Trump’s role in this and other seemingly related matters, like his decision to fire James Comey as FBI Director.


Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as FBI Director has been compared by some to Nixon’s decision to fire FBI Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox

There is also a criminal investigation being run into the Russian affair. Former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed as a special prosecutor to investigate links between Trump officials and Russian figures. So far, three individuals have been charged with criminal offences related to the investigation:

George Papadopolus (Trump Campaign Foreign Policy Advisor) – Papadopoulus has admitted to making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

Paul Manafort (Trump’s Campaign Chairman) – Manafort been charged with 12 counts, including conspiracy against the United States.

Michael Flynn (Trump’s Former National Security Advisor) – Flynn has pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russia’s ambassador.

For Trump, there is a danger that Flynn who be to him was Dean was to Nixon – a trusted aide who could turn against him to save his own fate. Facing five years in prison, if Trump has acted incorrectly and Flynn knows it, this may be his downfall.


Former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, may turn out to be the key figure in the Russia Investigation


A number of figures have suggested that the Russia Investigations are likely to be a bigger political scandal than Watergate. That is hard to envisage – unless it results in the impeachment of Donald Trump. However, both are examples of congressional scrutiny in action.

In addition, they are an example that no person is above the law. In Watergate it was shown that Nixon could not protect himself using executive privilege. The same will be true with Trump, should the worst fears surrounding the scandal turn out to be true.

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