January 6 was much worse than Watergate

Very early on Saturday morning June 17, 1972, security guard Frank Wills discovered that a piece of duct tape had been placed on the latchbolt of a door in the stairwell leading to the apartment complex’s garage of Watergate.

He took it off. During his rounds 30 minutes later, he saw that the same latchbolt had been taped again. Wills, 24, went to the lobby to call the police. Undercover cops from Washington DC arrived, searched the building with the help of the security guard and at 2:30 a.m. arrested five men who were there to install listening devices in the telephones of the offices on the sixth floor of the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Lawrence O’Brien. The early morning incident would lead to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon 26 months later.

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News reports were soon to reveal that the five men had ties to an obscure White House and Presidential Reelection Campaign freelancer named E. Howard Hunt, an author of spy novels and a retired CIA officer.

Jeff Himmelman suggests in “Yours in Truth”, a 2012 biography of Ben Bradlee, that it is possible to piece together the outline of the Watergate scandal from the earliest articles by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post, which have were written a few weeks before their editor Bradlee took a keen interest in the subject. For example, Hunt was somehow connected to the director of the White House Public Liaison Office, Chuck Colson, and if Colson knew anything about any of this, so did Nixon.

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But Woodward, for his part, had no idea who Colson was. When he asked a Post colleague who he thought could do it, he was told, “Nixon’s ax man.”

Slush fund

A dramatic Post story linked legitimately raised campaign funds to a “slush fund” that was used for possibly illicit activities. This led the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, to announce an audit of the CRP. But, overall, it would be a slow-burn story that didn’t really take off until two months after the president’s second inauguration.

“At the time, Nixon was well ahead in the polls,” Himmelman wrote of late summer and fall 1972, “and he and the men around him were considered people of repute. and competent who could not have been involved in such an undertaking. an inept and low-yield operation.

Ultimately, 48 people were found guilty of Watergate-related charges, with former United States Attorney General and head of the CRP at the time of the break-in John Mitchell, former chief of staff Bob Haldeman, former home affairs adviser John Ehrlichman and Colson among those who later served prison time. The disgraced president was controversially pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.

Out of the Watergate scandal came the cliché that the cover-up is usually worse than what they cover up. Was it in this case? Well, legally yes, as it has often led to obstruction of justice charges. But they were hiding for very good reasons.

The well-known source with a deep background known as the Deep Throat told Woodward: ‘You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and the CRP to play games, spy, sabotage and gather intelligence . Some of them are beyond comprehension, kicking the opposition in every way imaginable.

Deep Throat was revealed in 2005 to be Mark Felt, a senior FBI official who was no boy scout when it came to the dark arts, but was shocked by the shenanigans of those to whom he was responsible in the within the executive branch. In their book “All the President’s Men”, it is revealed that Deep Throat confirmed to Woodward a “list of things he and Bernstein had heard about against the political opposition: eavesdropping, tracking people, false press leaks , forged letters, canceling campaign rallies, investigating the privacy of activists, installing spies, stealing documents, implanting provocateurs in political demonstrations.

Deep Throat said: “It’s all in the files. Justice and the Bureau are aware, but there was no follow-up.

Leap Forward

As an individual event, the failure of the incumbent President of the United States to intervene sooner in the January 6, 2021 mob attack on the United States Capitol complex is clearly worse than anything related to Watergate. . But the real issues with the tragic day a year ago run much deeper.

Peter Quinn, when he was talking a few years ago about his spy thriller “Hour of the Cat” (recently reissued by Fordham University Press), declared that events like the Holocaust and other calamities of the 20th century were not simply the result of a few ideological detours; the machinery of death has also been facilitated by technological developments.

Technological change always comes with the potential for good and bad; and leaning too much towards optimism or pessimism can rarely provide the right approaches. An example of the former came from a journalist I heard on the radio commenting on the controversy surrounding the negative psychological impact of social media on young people: “Oh, young girls have always had body image issues “, she said. But, you can’t just tout the wonders of a technological leap forward and then ignore how it could exponentially worsen a given problem or subset of problems. With new technologies, things improve or they regress; they never stay the same.

The disinformation machinery has taken huge leaps forward in recent times; misinformation, however, is just one of many factors that slow our response times to crises. Consider this: Fox News imposed a vaccination mandate on its own employees, yet, according to Media Matters for America, founded by conservative writer-turned-liberal lawyer David Brock, “Fox News has relentlessly undermined efforts to get workers vaccinated. Americans Against COVID-19 Disease From June 28 to July 11, 57% of segments about coronavirus vaccines on the network included claims that undermined vaccination efforts.”

Trump speaking at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on January 6, 2021. [Photo: Voice of America]

The study of this two-week period in early summer found that: “Forty-five percent of the segments included claims suggesting that the vaccination campaign is coercive or represents government overreach: Thirty -seven percent of segments included claims suggesting that vaccines are unnecessary. or dangerous. ‘Fox & Friends’, including its early morning and weekend iterations, aired the most vaccine segments during this period, with more than half (52%) featuring claims undermining or minimizing vaccination .

Media Matters continued, “The Salt Lake City Tribune reported that Governor Spencer Cox (R-UT) blamed right-wing media anti-vaccination ‘propaganda’ for the state’s low vaccination rates. The newspaper quotes Cox as describing the “recent push by Fox News, Newsmax and other right-wing outlets against the vaccine” as “reckless.”

Last week, Media Matters reported that “since the inauguration [Jan. 20, 2021] through Nov. 30, “Tucker Carlson Tonight” aired “at least one vaccine-undermining claim nearly every day it covered them.”

steal money

Of course, hardcore misinformation was at the heart of the Jan. 6 debacle and the rest. The problem here is that, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, some people are really stupid. To be charitable, he may have been referring to their understanding of political realities, although the middle part of a famous phrase attributed to him – “you can fool some people all the time” – is starting to sound very creepy.

Almost anyone who has worked with or studied the political process would agree that stealing votes on a significant scale would be extremely difficult in an open and free society; one commentator said it was about as pointless as planning an armed robbery of loot consisting entirely of pennies. And yet, part of the Republican voter base appears to have been tricked into believing the 2020 presidential election was stolen as a result of a plot involving some of their fellow Americans. This has potentially disastrous consequences for the legitimacy of our democratic institutions. And when legitimacy is undermined, violence can soon follow.

Dayton, Ohio-born historian Timothy Snyder has been one of those who have been sounding the alarm for a few years now. The Yale professor, who has written acclaimed books on the Holocaust and eastern and central Europe in the 20th century, including the best-selling “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin”, wrote the short volume “On Tyranny : Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” in response to the rise of Trump and authoritarian populism.

Last year, immediately after the January 6 uprising, Snyder in a New York Times Essay said some Republican politicians who accepted Trump’s antics in refusing to concede the “stolen” election believed it would only delay the inevitable.

“Yet for Congress, translating its core functions came at a price. An elected institution that opposes elections invites its own overthrow,” he wrote, “Members of Congress who supported the President’s lie, despite available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making its fictions the basis of Congress action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen submit to his will. He could lay personal responsibility on Mike Pence, in charge of formal proceedings, for perverting them. And on January 6, he ordered his supporters to exert pressure on these elected officials, which they did: storm the Capitol building, search for people to punish, ransack the premises.

Snyder suggested that the GOP is a “coalition of two kinds of people: those who would game the system (most politicians, some voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few politicians, many voters) .” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a “player” in his view, while Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri is a “breaker.”

“For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, even a lesson,” he said. “For the Breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Subsequently, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that forced them to flee their chambers.

Snyder wrote a year before similar warnings from Liz Cheney, a daughter of the last Republican to serve two terms as US vice president, “Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. . When we give up the truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.

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