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Trump and Nixon: A case of déjà vu?

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Greg B. Macabenta

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Trump and Nixon: A case of déjà vu?

On Feb. 21, 1972, President Richard Nixon made a historic trip to China, thus reestablishing ties with the Communist regime — ties that had been broken since Mao Tse-tung and his forces took over the Chinese mainland in 1949.

In the November elections that same year, Nixon won a second term by a landslide, beating Democratic Senator George McGovern.

Meanwhile, in-between these two events — in June that year — Republican dirty tricks operators, posing as plumbers were arrested while burglarizing and planting bugs in the offices of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Building in Washington DC. The GOP operatives apparently wanted to make sure — by any means, fair or foul — that Nixon would be reelected, perhaps not satisfied with the brownie points Nixon had gained with his diplomatic tour de force.

The Watergate break-in would spiral into an unmanageable scandal that eventually forced Nixon to resign on Aug. 9, 1974. This was to avoid impeachment — a process that had been initiated by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in early May that same year. The charge against Nixon: obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

It took almost two years from the time of the Watergate break-in and arrests to the start of impeachment hearings against Nixon and three more months before he was forced to resign.

It also took the resignation of top officials of the Department of Justice who refused Nixon’s orders to fire Independent Counsel Archibald Cox (who was investigating the Watergate scandal), and the firing of Cox by the most senior DOJ official left in office after the resignations (referred to as The Saturday Night Massacre).

It took the appointment of a new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, who continued the investigation and subsequently indicted several highly-placed Nixon aides — including Attorney General John Mitchell, Presidential Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Presidential Counsels John Ehrlichman and Charles Colson. This happened in November 1973, a year after Nixon’s landslide victory.

In other words, Nixon’s impressive diplomatic achievement and his reelection by the biggest margin in US electoral history up to that time, did not stop the American justice system from pursuing allegations of obstruction of justice made against the most powerful public official in the world. And when the investigators arrived at their conclusion of guilt, they proceeded to impeach Nixon. His party mates had to step in to persuade him to resign instead.

These days, the US is seeing an eerily similar set of circumstances hounding President Donald Trump.

As I write this, Trump is in Singapore in a historic summit with North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un — the first face to face meeting between the leaders of the US and North Korea since the latter invaded South Korea in June 1950 and since the end of the Korean War in July 1953.

Only a few months ago, the world had a terrible war scare when Kim accelerated the testing of his nuclear arsenal and increased the decibel of his threats to attack America — threats that newly-installed President Trump dismissed as the rantings of Little Rocket Man. Trump even compared his “bigger nuclear button” with that of North Korea’s. Kim’s response: Trump is a “dotard,” meaning someone weak and senile.

Needless to say, for his summit with Kim, Trump expects not just brownie points for his diplomatic feat, he thinks he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize.

Indeed, a Nobel would be deserved if it becomes a reality, namely, the formal end of the state of war between North Korea and South Korea, along with the allied forces that fought in the Korean War (including the Philippines which dispatched the PEFTOK or Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea). And if Kim agrees to a full and verifiable denuclearization, that should certainly seal the Nobel for Trump.

Meanwhile, Trump and many of his associates, as well as members of his immediate family, are facing allegations of obstruction of justice and collusion with the Russians (whose meddling in the last US presidential elections has been confirmed by America’s intelligence agencies).

The probe is being conducted by Special Counsel Bob Mueller, a former FBI director and highly regarded by Republicans and Democrats alike. Mueller has a team of crack prosecutors and investigators helping him.

Already four key members of the Trump presidential campaign have been charged, namely, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Manafort’s business associate, Richard Gates, and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

A Dutch lawyer, Alex van de Zwaan has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for lying to the FBI in connection with the Russia probe, while 13 Russian nationals (all of whom are not in the US) have been indicted for meddling in the US elections, along with a certain Richard Pinedo who admitted selling false identities to the Russians to help them open bank accounts.

Additionally, Michael Cohen, said to be a personal lawyer of Trump, is in trouble for a whole mess of involvements, starting with paying off a porn actress, who had an affair with Trump, to collecting millions from private businesses for access to Trump, to negotiating with the Russians in connection with Trump’s real estate interests.

So far, none of the indictments, as well as the troubles of Cohen, has been directly related to any misconduct by Trump himself, even as Trump declares his mantra at every turn, “No Russian collusion, no obstruction of justice, the special counsel investigation is a witch hunt.”

This is a mantra that Trump’s attack dog, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been spreading on network TV along with other ridiculous statements that betray his foot-in-mouth disease.

But observers point out that the lack of indications of guilt on the part of Trump is mainly due to the reticence of the team of Mueller. These observers have noted that with each indictment or court filing, the Mueller group has revealed a remarkable wealth of information and insights into the targets of their investigation. They believe that they know much more about the allegations against Trump than they are willing to reveal at this point, perhaps because he happens to be the biggest fish of all.

Meanwhile, Trump has dangled several moves that could get him into even more trouble. He has hinted at firing or forcing the resignation of Deputy Attorney General Rob Rosenstein who appointed Special Counsel Mueller. This could be followed by the firing of Mueller by whoever replaces Rosenstein. Trump has also repeatedly expressed disappointment with Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, a move that Sessions was constrained to do because of his involvement in the Trump campaign.

Trump has also hinted at pardoning those under the Mueller microscope. And Trump has also declared that he has the power to pardon himself, although he insists that it won’t be necessary because “he has done nothing wrong.”

Assuming a successful Singapore summit (as I write this, I am anxiously awaiting the result of the scheduled meeting between Trump and Kim, with only their interpreters present), will that spare Trump from his problems with American justice?

Not if the travails of Nixon are to be the basis.

One wishes that this kind of dogged pursuit of justice is possible in the Philippines against the highest official in the land, rendered by members of his own party. But maybe that is too much to wish for in our country where justice is based on the principle of weather-weather and party loyalty.

Meanwhile, in the US, we might see history repeat itself. Déjà vu?

 

Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.

gregmacabenta@hotmail.com