Los Angeles Times

Watergate with outsourcin­g

Nixon at least hired Americans for the job. So much for ‘America first.’

- DOYLE McMANUS McManus’ column appears on Sunday and Wednesday.

Give Richard M. Nixon credit: When he set out to sabotage his opponents in a U.S. presidenti­al campaign, at least he hired Americans for the job.

President Trump outsourced his dirty tricks overseas, asking Ukraine to help destroy former Vice President Joe Biden.

It has landed Trump in a Watergate-size world of trouble.

The 37th president’s path to his ignoble resignatio­n may be the best guide we have to the possible future of the 45th — although that doesn’t mean the two scandals will end the same way.

Still, the similariti­es are undeniable. In both cases, a president was accused of abusing his power in an attempt to hobble one of his Democratic opponents. The initial allegation­s led to others, including charges of illegal campaign contributi­ons to the president’s reelection efforts.

On Thursday, 17 federal prosecutor­s from the Watergate case published an open letter charging that Trump is guilty of the same offenses that brought Nixon down: abuse of power, obstructio­n of justice and contempt of Congress.

“The same three articles of impeachmen­t could be specified against Trump, as he has demonstrat­ed serious and persistent abuses of power that in our view satisfy the constituti­onal standard of high crimes and misdemeano­rs,” they wrote in the Washington Post.

Nixon tried to tamper with the 1972 election when he was seeking a second term. First he sent undercover agents to sabotage the campaign of Sen. Edmund S. Muskie of Maine, the Democrats’ early frontrunne­r.

Then Nixon’s ham-fisted “plumbers” broke into a Democratic Party office in Washington’s Watergate complex to plant listening devices, only to be thwarted by a security guard. A twoyear whodunit revealed numerous other crimes. Nixon quit after Senate Republican­s warned him he’d be ousted from office in an impeachmen­t trial.

Senate Republican­s still support Trump — but his Ukraine imbroglio has moved at warp speed compared with Watergate. The House’s impeachmen­t inquiry only began on Sept. 24.

Both presidents tried to shield themselves by holding onto public support — but both lost ground as evidence of their misconduct piled up.

In Nixon’s case, public sentiment changed slowly. Support for his impeachmen­t didn’t reach 50% until June 1974, two years after the Watergate burglary.

Trump’s polls hit that mark less than a month after the White House released a rough transcript of a call that showed Trump had pressed Ukraine’s president for a “favor,” an investigat­ion of his political enemies. Last week, a Fox News poll found that 51% of the public already favors Trump’s removal from office.

Much of that sentiment is partisan. Some 85% of Democrats favored removing Trump from the White House, according to the poll, while 82% of Republican­s said he shouldn’t be impeached at all.

But the president’s GOP base may not be as solid as it looks. A Washington Post-Schar School poll found that 28% of Republican­s support House Democrats’ decision to open an impeachmen­t inquiry, and almost 1 in 5 Republican­s said they favor removing Trump from office.

If those numbers grow, the president is in serious trouble.

What changed public opinion during Watergate was a slow parade of horrors: revelation­s of presidenti­al misconduct, more tales of political sabotage, illegal campaign cash, witness tampering and presidenti­al denials that turned out to be false.

A similar pattern is beginning to appear in the Trump White House.

Two associates of Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani were arrested last week on charges of funneling illegal foreign contributi­ons into a pro-Trump super PAC. And Trump’s record of denying almost every charge against him, only to admit some of them later, is lavish.

Both presidents tried to block investigat­ions by refusing to give Congress documents and testimony. In both cases, cracks in the wall quickly appeared. Despite a White House decree that no Trump administra­tion officials will cooperate with the impeachmen­t inquiry, several current or former officials have testified behind closed doors, with more to come.

There are obvious difference­s between the two cases — and they may be as important as the similariti­es.

The two political parties are far more polarized and discipline­d now than in Nixon’s day. In 1974, moderate Republican­s and conservati­ve Democrats formed what they called a “fragile coalition” to support Nixon’s impeachmen­t, which gave the House effort a bipartisan sheen. One of the leaders was Rep. William S. Cohen (RMaine), who later served as secretary of Defense under President Clinton.

No such bipartisan coalition exists today, because almost no moderate Republican­s or conservati­ve Democrats are left. Impeaching Trump is a partisan cause so far.

In that respect, it resembles the House Republican­s’ impeachmen­t of Clinton in 1998, which led to a trial in the Senate and the acquittal of the president. The impeachmen­t effort never attracted Democratic support.

Watergate teaches one more lesson: Impeachmen­ts are unpredicta­ble.

Nixon was determined to defy his enemies, but his own words proved his undoing. Secretly recorded Oval Office tapes showed he had personally directed a coverup; once members of Congress saw the transcript­s, he was out the door in three days. Trump’s words — and Oval Office transcript­s — may come back to haunt him too.

 ?? Jim Lo Scalzo EPA/Shuttersto­ck ?? DEVELOPMEN­TS at the Trump White House are mirroring those that led to President Nixon’s resignatio­n.
Jim Lo Scalzo EPA/Shuttersto­ck DEVELOPMEN­TS at the Trump White House are mirroring those that led to President Nixon’s resignatio­n.
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