ECLECTIC RANT: Too Early to Compare Watergate Scandal to Russiangate

Ralph E. Stone
Friday September 22, 2017 - 04:34:00 PM

I remember the Watergate scandal in the early 1970s, which probably dates me.

Some have compared the Watergate scandal to today’s Russiangate — whether Donald Trump and/or his cohorts and/or his family members colluded with the Russians in cyberattacks on the U.S. electoral system or attempted to interfere in the FBI’s investigation of any potential links to and coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Let’s look back at the Watergate scandal: 

On June 17, 1972, James W. McCord, Virgilio R. Gonzales, Frank A. Sturgis, Bernard Barker, and Eugenio R. Martinez were arrested at the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee. They purportedly broke in to photograph campaign documents and install listening devices in telephones.  

The five men were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. The burglars were indicted by a Grand Jury on September 15, along with G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Jr. 

Ultimately 69 people were indicted, with trials or pleas resulting in 48 being found guilty, many of whom were Nixon’s top administration officials. 

Attorney General John Mitchell allegedly had approved the break in plan. 

President Richard Nixon's administration attempted a cover-up of its involvement. When the conspiracy was discovered and investigated by the U.S. Congress, the Nixon administration’s resistance to its probes led to a Constitutional crisis.  


The term Watergate came to mean an array of clandestine and often illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. These activities included such “dirty tricks” as bugging the offices of political opponents and people of whom Nixon or his officials were suspicious. Nixon and his close aides also ordered investigations of activist groups and political figures, using the FBI, the CIA, and the IRS.  

As Nixon became more and more entangled in legal troubles, he fell back on three defense arguments, which he repeated constantly. These arguments were: 

1. I am the victim of a witch hunt. (Nixon actually did use the term “witch hunt” to describe the Watergate investigation.); 

2. The liberal press is trying to destroy me, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times; and 

3. I am not a crook. The real criminals are the leakers. I have ordered my attorney general to find and prosecute the leakers. 

Does this sound vaguely familiar? 

On August 9, 1974, facing virtually certain impeachment in the U.S. House of Representatives and equally certain conviction by the U.S. Senate, Nixon resigned the presidency.  

It is certainly too early to try to compare the Watergate scandal to Russiangate, as the investigations by the special counsel, the House and Senate are not concluded. Also, while the Democrats controlled Congress during the Watergate scandal period, bipartisanship was common. Thus, Democrats and Republicans joined together to force Nixon to resign. Today, the Republicans control a polarized Congress. 

Only time will tell whether a comparison of the Watergate scandal and Russiangate is apt.