Thursday, April 4, 2019

No. 307: Nixon and Trump

In a blogger's note in No. 300 (December 17, 2018), I said I was taking a vacation for two or three months. What I did not mention was the reason for the vacation, which was to read extensively about the investigation of President Richard Nixon in the 1970s and the investigation of President Donald Trump during the past two years.

The Investigation of Nixon
As the investigation of Nixon progressed in the early 1970s, I followed it, but not in depth. I read about it in newspapers, read All the President's Men, saw the movie, and a couple of years later read The Final Days. I have now completed my reading about the investigation of Nixon by rereading All the President's Men, rereading The Final Days, and reading about the investigation from the viewpoints of several others associated with the investigation: prosecutors (Ben-Veniste, Frampton, Jaworski), historians (Farrell, White), journalists (Bernstein, Doyle, Woodward), and wrongdoers (Dean, Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Nixon).

I did not read all of Nixon's 1,120-page 1978 Memoirs. I was turned off by his incomplete description of the infamous 18½-minute gap on the June 20, 1972 tape recording (three days after the Watergate break-in). Although some evidence points to Nixon personally as having made the erasure, here is how he continued the cover-up on pages 631-632:
I met with Bob Haldeman twice on Tuesday [June 20, 1972]: from 11:26 A.M. until 12:45 P.M., and again from 4:35 until 5:25 in the afternoon. What was said during the morning meeting will never be known completely because the tape of that conversation is the one with the 18½-minute gap. Some of what we talked about during those 18½ minutes can be reconstructed from the notes Haldeman took. According to them, one of my first reactions to the Watergate break-in was to instruct that my EOB [Executive Office Building] office be checked regularly to make sure that I [italic in original] was not being bugged by anyone. They also indicate a concern about the political ramifications of the Watergate incident and a desire to divert its impact by mounting our own counterattack.
On the other hand, I was deeply impressed by Theodore White's 1975 book, Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon. Many years ago I read his impressive Making of the President series, for the first of which he received the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. The style of his book about Nixon reminds me of the style of my favorite writer, Robert Caro, who received the 1975 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Biography for Master of the Senate (the third volume of Caro's multi-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson).

White, who died in 1986, would have had a field day with the investigation of Trump. To provide a glimpse of White's style, here are a few excerpts from his description of what happened in the U.S. Supreme Court on the day Chief Justice of the United States Warren Burger announced the 8 to 0 decision in U.S. v. Nixon:
Wednesday dawned with an overcast in Washington—hot, sticky, threatening to rain—July 24th, 1974. And the flag over the Supreme Court was at half-staff, in memory of Earl Warren....
Oyez, Oyez, Oyez—the words echoed out of the medieval French and the particular system of justice the Normans imposed almost a thousand years ago on conquered England, from which had developed that common law which still governs Americans and Englishmen. This system of justice holds that the law must act on evidence; to get at that evidence, all the power of the state may be mobilized. What was at issue this day was whether those close associates of Richard Nixon, President of the United States, under indictment at that moment, could be fairly judged in court without necessary facts; and the highest court in the land had been summoned to judge the President's authority to withhold those facts. Oyez, Oyez, Oyez—Give Ear, Give Ear, Give Ear. Listen! And then the Justices, eight out of nine (Justice Rehnquist had disqualified himself from hearing this case), silently materialized from behind the wine-red velvet drapes to take their seats on the bench.
The Chief Justice, Warren Burger, leaned forward in his black leather chair and spoke for a moment of his predecessor, Earl Warren, who had just died. Earl Warren had enlarged the power of the Court more than any other Justice of the twentieth century. Now, Burger was to enlarge that power yet further as he proceeded to speak to Case No. 73-1766, United States against Nixon, and the cross-petition, Case No. 73-1834, Nixon against the United States.
White described Chief Justice Burger's reading of the decision, and what happened immediately thereafter:
Silence. Then the clack of a gavel. And then the Justices swiveled in their chairs, rose and, like ghosts of an olden drama, disappeared through the burgundy drapes behind them, the thwack of the gavel still echoing. It was 11:20 in the morning in Washington, only 8:20 in San Clemente, California, where Richard Nixon had secluded himself. Eight hours later would come the next thwack of a gavel, as Peter Rodino, chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, would call to order in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building those members of his committee who, for the next six days, must act to define power—theirs, the people's and the President's—in rolling, vivid and brilliant debate for all the world to see and hear.
"Fiat justitia, ruat coelum," the Roman lawmakers had said, "Let Justice be done, though the heavens fall." Justice, at every level of American power, was now under way: in two weeks a President would fall.
I had lunch within an hour of the decision with Leon Jaworski, whose authority as Special Prosecutor Chief Justice Burger had just affirmed as sovereign. But as Jaworski sat at table, breaking his custom in order to celebrate with a carafe of white wine, there was little of sovereign manner about him. He was an old man, today weary, tufts of white hair above the face of a friendly goblin, the voice firm, now precise, then again grandfatherly, and no elation in his voice about the victory....
"What happened this morning," said the tired man, "proved what we teach in schools, it proved what we teach in colleges, it proved everything we've been trying to get across—that no man is above the law." Jaworski was living now in a two-room-and-dinette suite at the Jefferson Hotel, his wife cooking for him, far from the comforts and pleasant estate of his life in Texas. But he intended to go through with this to the end, he said, he had to, not for reward nor for fame, but simply because of the young people. This case, said Jaworski, would shape what the young of America would think or say or do in this system for all of the next generation. Unless the young people believed, really believed in our institutions, the system simply would not work. He quoted Disraeli; according to his recall, Disraeli had said, "The youth of the nation are the trustees of posterity." His clients were the youth of the nation, his prosecution a defense of the system.
The Investigation of Trump
By coincidence, I completed my reading about the investigation of Nixon during the weekend of March 22-24, 2019, when Special Counsel Robert S Mueller III gave his report on the investigation of Trump to Attorney General William Barr. That same weekend Barr sent two letters to the Senate and House Committees on the Judiciary.

When Trump burst on the political scene, followed by the investigation of him, I thought the investigations of Nixon and Trump had significant similarities. I also thought they had significant differences.

The Similarities
One similarity is the "Road Map" placed under seal on March 1, 1974, and unsealed by a federal judge on October 11, 2018. (See No. 295, posted November 9, 2018.) Another similarity is that both investigations were looking into possible efforts to subvert the U.S. Constitution.

Still another similarity is that both investigations reveal the crucial importance of close associates of Nixon and Trump. After Trump's nomination and before his election, I could not imagine, if he should win, how he would be able to attract highly qualified and capable individuals to serve in his cabinet and in other important positions in his administration.

The Differences
An important difference in the two investigations is that Nixon had extensive political experience—in the House, in the Senate, and as vice president—while Trump had no political experience. Another important difference is that Nixon was an avid reader, while Trump reportedly reads nothing and obtains his information by watching television.

Origins of the Investigations
Some think the investigation of Nixon began with the Watergate break-in on the night of June 16-17, 1972. However, the seeds went much farther back—to Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of The Pentagon Papers in 1971, and even farther back to the techniques Nixon used to win election to the House in 1946 and the Senate in 1950.

As for the investigation of Trump, some think it began with the firing of FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017. For me, however, it goes back much farther than that. I was bewildered and angered by Trump's early claim that President Barack Obama was not eligible to hold the office. Trump's antipathy toward Obama continues unabated today.

My second major problem with Trump began with his criticism of immigrants when he began his primary campaign. I took those comments personally, because my beloved grandparents (all four of them) immigrated to our great country through Ellis Island about 120 years ago to escape persecution in eastern Europe and make a better life for their descendants.

There was another early incident that turned me against Trump. It was the horrible insult that Trump, a Vietnam War draft dodger, directed at Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War hero. To this date, months after McCain's death, Trump continues to attack McCain.

Moreover, I have had many other concerns about Trump.  A few of those are his defense of Nazis, his affinity for dictators, his remarks about women, his sexual indiscretions, his vicious attacks on the media, his nasty comments about those he perceives as his enemies, and, above all, his constant lies.

General Observations
I have been following the investigation of Trump closely through newspapers and other media outlets. During my vacation I read extensively about the investigations of Nixon and Trump. Before listing the books, I have some general observations.

For anyone interested in the investigations of Nixon and Trump, I strongly recommend Theodore White's 1975 book. It is not only a superb analysis of the investigation of Nixon, but one through which anyone with knowledge of the investigation of Trump can see important similarities and differences in the two investigations.

I consider the recent books by James Comey and Andrew McCabe mandatory reading. They describe the operations of the FBI and explain why it is vital for the FBI to maintain its independence from the White House. It is regrettable that Trump will never read them.

I am troubled by Attorney General William Barr's March 22, March 24, and March 29, 2019 letters to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. I think they represent the beginning of a major cover-up of the results of the now completed 22-month investigation by Special Counsel Mueller.

I think the Barr letters, which Trump and his supporters are using to declare victory through the results of the Mueller report, will exacerbate the already extreme political partisanship over the Mueller report. A vivid illustration occurred at the beginning of a public hearing on March 28, 2019 before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on "Putin's Playbook: The Kremlin's Use of Oligarchs, Money and Intelligence in 2016 and Beyond." The committee consists of Chairman Adam Schiff and 12 other Democrats, and Ranking Member Devin Nunes and eight other Republicans. Following his opening statement, Schiff invited comments from Nunes, who yielded to K. Michael Conaway, who read a letter to Schiff from the nine Republicans requesting that Schiff resign as chairman of the committee. The letter is in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

Schiff forcefully rejected the request in a statement that I think will go down in history as important. After delivering his statement, Schiff refused to recognize anyone from the committee. Instead he recognized the first hearing witness: Michael McFaul, a former U.S.Ambassador to Russia. I was not able to locate an official transcript of Schiff's statement, which should be available later. Meanwhile,  I have included in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post my rough transcript of the statement.

The List of Books
Richard Ben-Veniste and George Frampton, Jr. Stonewall: The Real Story of the Watergate Prosecution (1977, 410 pages). They were members of the Watergate special prosecution task force.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. All the President's Men (1974, 349 pages). A new edition was published in 2012 with an "Afterword." They were The Washington Post reporters who wrote extensively about the investigation of Nixon beginning on June 17, 1972.

James R. Clapper. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (2018, 424 pages). He is a retired director of national intelligence.

James Comey. A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018, 290 pages). He is a former director of the FBI.

John W. Dean III. Blind Ambition: The White House Years (1976, 415 pages). He was Nixon's White House counsel.

James Doyle. Not Above the Law: The Battles of Watergate Prosecutors Cox and Jaworski (1977, 420 pages). He was the press officer for the Watergate special prosecution task force.

John Ehrlichman. Witness to Power: The Nixon Years (1982, 432 pages). He was a top Nixon assistant. He died in 1999.

John A. Farrell. Richard Nixon: The Life (2017, 737 pages). He is a prominent historian.

H. R. Haldeman. The Ends of Power (1978, 326 pages). He was Nixon's chief of staff. He died in 1993.

Michael Isikoff and David Corn. Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump (2018, 338 pages). They are prominent journalists.

Leon Jaworski. The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate (1976, 306 pages). He was the second Watergate special prosecutor. He died in 1982.

Andrew G. McCabe. The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump (2019, 274 pages). He is a former acting director of the FBI.

Richard M. Nixon. RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978, 1,120 pages). He was the 37th president of the United States. He died in 1994.

John J. Sirica. To Set the Record Straight: The Break-In, the Tapes, the Conspirators, and the Pardon (1979, 394 pages). He was the federal district court judge in much of the Watergate-related litigation. He died in 1992.

Theodore H. White. Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon (1975, 373 pages). He was a prominent historian. He died in 1986.

Michael Wolff. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018, 321 pages). He is a prominent journalist.

Bob Woodward. Fear: Trump in the White House (2018, 420 pages).

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The Final Days (1976, 470 pages).

Bob Woodward. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat (2005, 249 pages). In 2005, W. Mark Felt, deputy director of the FBI during the Watergate days, and his family disclosed that he was "Deep Throat." Felt died later in 2005.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 18-page PDF consisting of Barr's letter of March 22, 2019 (1 page), his letter of March 24 (4 pages), his letter of March 29 (2 pages), the March 28 letter from the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee requesting Schiff's resignation as chairman of the committee (2 pages), my rough transcript of Schiff's response to the Republicans' letter (2 pages), the three Articles of Impeachment adopted in 1974 by the House Judiciary Committee (4 pages), and Nixon's resignation speech (3 pages). Email and ask for the April 2019 package relating to Nixon and Trump.