Is the current special counsel investigation comparable to Watergate?


While the Brian Ross’ of the news media are breathlessly issuing “bombshell” announcements devoid of truth regarding the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation momentary findings, there is a steady undercurrent attempting to compare the Watergate era to this Trump obsessed investigation. The mindset seems to be Watergate brought down Nixon, we can do Trump in the same way.

First, let’s be clear, the special counsel was actually handed what amounted to a counter-intelligence investigation; to find out if, and/or how, and with whose assistance, the Russian government intelligence services attempted to influence the 2016 national election.

The obvious sub-text here was that its goal would be to somehow tie the Russian “meddling” to the president, Donald Trump, and thereby establish a way of ejecting him from office.

To date, from what has been available in the media, they’ve done nothing resembling a counter-intelligence investigation. It has been a steady stream of innuendo through leaks from anonymous — and mostly wrong — sources so far.

Watergate, in June 1972, was a clumsy break-in at Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate complex in D.C., which was discovered in process by a security guard and resulted in the arrest of a group of seemingly unlikely “burglars.” Two of these men had links to the intelligence community and, ultimately, to the president’s aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlich. It took less than two months for the Washington Post reporters, with a highly placed FBI source providing their tips, to uncover these connections.

This was internal politics, not espionage or even influence of a foreign power. The FBI remained largely independent of political influence back in 1972. The Department of Justice, not so much, but it was functionally ethical in the end.

Today the difference is that the 2016 election was more likely tainted — but not in the way they intended — by the meddling of the previous FBI director, and many of his highest deputies, such as Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the remarkable Peter Strzock of recent texting fame.

From recent revelations what we now know is that former FBI Director James Comey had begun composing the rationale for exonerating Hillary Clinton of crimes committed (with her handling of classified material on her illegal unsecure email server) quite some time before she — or her deputies, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills — were even interviewed.

We already had court records months ago that showed how the FBI allowed suspects in the email investigation to destroy or restrict access to electronic devices with impunity. They allowed one suspect to act as the attorney for another suspect — Mills and Clinton — thereby shielding any examined communications between them found during the investigation. Find a better case for demonstrated collusion/corruption than that.

The Watergate scandal reached the White House through the acknowledgment that ultimately the president knew about the “cover up” and agreed to it. Now we have the losing party trying to cover up their own tracks with a highway-to-nowhere investigation, as broad as a river, unlimited funding, and time to find some sort of process crime . . . as long as it is a Republican, and especially if it is anyone connected to the Trump Administration. Over a year so far, and the only Russian connection factually is with the Clinton campaign and its operatives at Fusion GPS.

If I thought the Mueller team was capable and unbiased, which I do not, as they do not exhibit these characteristics, I would be inclined to think that they’d be looking for the true practitioners of corruption in the 2016 election. Given that I don’t think they are willing to do so, this then should fall directly to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Unfortunately, they have been stonewalled by the FBI for months.

When the Senate committee requested unredacted transcripts from the FBI of interviews of two of James Comey’s aides, chief of staff James Rybicki and FBI attorney Trisha Anderson, they were told “No.” The FBI had refused to let Mueller’s investigators interview them without first agreeing to an unheard of non-disclosure agreement that specifically gives the FBI authority to withhold the transcript from Congress. Bad? No, it gets worse.

The exposure of tens of thousands of texts between FBI Counter-Intelligence agent Strzock and his mistress, FBI Lawyer Lisa Page, came about because of an as-yet unexplained inspector general’s investigation within the Justice Department/FBI, apparently. The reason this investigation began is still not known to the public.

Among the texts were references to a meeting in “Andy’s office,” which given the seniority of Strzock and Page is presumed to be Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the FBI. In this text, Strzock refers to the “insurance policy” they discussed in the office that they would have to depend on if Trump actually won the election.

The weeks or months ahead will tell if Mueller’s investigation can reform itself to prove credible.

This isn’t Watergate, by a long stretch. It is far, far worse, though its roots go back to D.C. yet again.

Another View is a weekly column written collaboratively by Dale Landrith of Camden, Ken Frederic of Bristol, Paul Ackerman of Martinsville and Jan Dolcater of Rockport.