Mon, June19, 2023
This image shows boxes of records in a bathroom at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla., that was photographed on Nov. 12, 2021. Trump is facing 37 felony charges related to the mishandling of classified documents. June 9, 2023.
(Justice Department via AP)
Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, a liberal or a conservative, you ought to pay close
attention to what’s unfolding on the political scene in the US, particularly these days. It’s not about a
party or a group of people but rather the truth and the Rule of Law. It’s about the fact that no one is
above the law, especially politicians. It’s about “We The People” and the Constitution. It’s about our
values as Americans who believe in justice and democracy. It’s about which America we crave.
Love him or despise him, former president Donald J. Trump has created a controversy like none other in
the US and the world. He is the first President to be impeached twice on federal charges and indicted
twice as well. The most recent one might very well result in Trump being jailed under the century-old
Espionage Act which is considered an offense that is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment,
although, it’s a rarity for first-time federal offenders to get close to the maximum, or even be jailed.
Would Trump be the first US ex-president to get jailed? Do we have any precedents to rely on?
As it turns out, we have two cases that might serve as precedents: The USA V. Nixon & USA V. Spiro
Agnew (Nixon’s Vice President and Potential President in 1973).
The USA VS. Richard Nixon:
“From the discussions I have had with congressional and other leaders, I have concluded that because of the Watergate matter, I might not have the support of the Congress that I would consider necessary to back the tough decisions and carry out the duties of this office in the way the interests of the nation will require. I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interests of America first.” (US President Richard Nixon, letter of resignation,1974).
Decades after President Nixon’s resignation, the tsunami of the Watergate scandal continues to impact
the institutional power of the president of the United States to this day. This historic landmark event in
the wake of the Watergate scandal was the second time in our US history, that the President’s
impeachment had been taken into account, let alone fully executed. The Watergate scandal was the
turning point that shed light on how presidents rule and the freedoms the Constitution grants them.
And as a result, many Americans began to lose faith in the government which in turn caused drastically
damage to the presidency, both in the domestic and international arenas.
Looking back on the Nixon era, it was widely recognized by the majority of Americans who voted for his
re-election, “as an era of reform”. The reshaping of America’s campaign finance system was initiated,
which included the creation of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and the introduction of
comprehensive limitations on monetary spending for political campaigns, and perhaps the most iconic
and somewhat ironic in this case, was the new protections against abuses of executive power, including
the Privacy Act - which restricted government use of personal data.
To the American people in the 1970s, these reforms were promising because back then, the majority of
Americans were seeking a more honest and transparent government; a government that combats the
corrupting influence of money in politics and protects the people against governmental abuses of
power, as well as placing limits on exceptional presidential power. So what happened? Where did things
begin to go wrong?
To put it briefly, in June of the year 1972, a break-in to the Democratic National Committee
headquarters for an investigation revealed a plethora of abuses of power by the Nixon administration.
By all means, this was no ordinary robbery. The prowlers were directly connected to Nixon’s re-election
campaign, and they had been caught wiretapping phones and stealing documents. To everyone's
astonishment, Nixon took seemingly aggressive measures to cover up these crimes. Still, Washington
Post reporters Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein revealed his role in this conspiracy, and as a result,
Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974.
As many who are not perhaps familiar with the details of this case would normally wonder; what led to this scandal in the first place? And what was the political scene dominating at that particular time like? The basis of the Watergate scandal found root in the hostile political climate of the time, where President Nixon was craving for re-election amid the controversial involvement of the United States in the Vietnam War and the stark division of the country back then, on the validity and the legitimacy of that war. Thus came the need for a powerful presidential campaign that would guarantee Nixon’s re-election. However, this was far from being achieved, because on that fateful day of May 1972, and as evidence would later show, members of Nixon’s Committee to Re-Elect Nixon (Known as CREEP), broke into the Democratic National Committee’s Watergate headquarters, stole copies of top-secret documents and bugged the office’s phones. As luck would have it, the wiretaps failed to work properly, which led to sending a group of five burglars on June 17th to the Watergate building to replace the microphone, where a security guard suspected foul making in the process and called the police who upon arrival at the scene, was able to catch them red-handed. At that time, it was not very clear that those burglars were connected directly to Nixon, who swore that they were not, and the Americans believed him and re-elected him as president in an unprecedented landslide. However, suspicions of the president’s involvement began to circulate and had a snowball effect later on, especially when Nixon arranged to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in “hush money” to the burglars, then he and his aides put a plan to instruct the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to impede the FBI’s investigation of the crime. Coincidentally, This in itself was considered a far more serious crime; it was an abuse of presidential power and an obvious obstruction of justice. Upon the indictment of seven conspirators and at the urging of Nixon’s aides, to which five others pleaded guilty to avoid trial, a large handful of people, including the Washington Post reporters and trial judge John J. Sirica, and members of a senate investigating committee, had begun to suspect the situation. However, it was not the conspirators cracking under pressure who eventually spilled the bean, but rather the anonymous whistleblower known as “Deep Throat” who did provide key information to the reporters Woodward and Bernstein.
Many of Nixon’s aides testified before a grand jury about Nixon’s secretly taping escapade and ordered Nixon to turn over all the tapes, while the House Judiciary Committee voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up, and several violations of the Constitution.
On August 5, Nixon handed over the tapes which provided evidence beyond any reasonable doubt of his complicity in the Watergate crimes. Nixon Resigned in disgrace on August 8, before facing impeachment by Congress. He left Office on August 9. Six weeks later, after Gerald Ford was sworn in as president, he pardoned Nixon.
When reading about this case and watching documentaries detailing the before and the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, one would be able to form a better understanding of how Nixon’s blatant abuse of presidential power and privilege, contributed largely to the beginning of the end of our democratic system of governing, and how it ultimately led to the rise of the “Trumpisim” cult, which is proving daily that the American political scene that was before Nixon, is no more.
*Story Continues ...*
United States v. Nixon. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved January 17, 2023, fromhttps://www.oyez.org/cases/1973/73-1766