Recalling Watergate–a Nixonian Nightmare

October 29, 2015

COMMENT: I do not know what Azrul’s motivation is for writing about the Watergate Affair and the roles of award winning journalists, Bob Woodward and  Carl Bernstein in the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

Azrul forgot to give due credit to the steadfast  and respected owner of The Washington Post Katherine Graham,  Managing Editor Howard Simons, and Editor-in-Chief Benjamin C. Bradlee (picture below) without whom there would probably be no Watergate. 

The Washington Post Watergate Team w Managing Editor Howard SimonsIf Azrul thinks that Malaysian journalists can do a Woodward-Bernstein to bring about the resignation of Najib as our Prime Minister, he is either very naive or overrating the role of investigative journalism in keeping our politicians in check. Even Sarawak Report with a smoking gun evidence on the Rm 2.6 billion donation in the Prime Minister’s bank account failed to force Najib to leave office. How do we deal with someone who has no conscience or sense of common decency?

The Malaysian Prime Minister wants to hang on to power and will not relent, unless UMNO decides to throw him out and that, as we know, is highly unlikely. All Division chiefs and UMNO grassroots are in his payroll, having been given millions and BR1M money. Even my good friend, Shahrir Samad, of all people, is beneficiary of Najib’s generosity.

We also know that we cannot expect our mainstream media which includes the Malay Mail, and the Sun Daily, The New Straits Times, The Star and others to get within a whisker of any attempt to mobilise public pressure against Najib and his cohort. Furthermore, our media are not blessed with the likes of Graham, Simons, and Bradlee who could withstand the relentless pressure they got from a powerful President Richard Nixon and his White staff.

Malaysia is not the United States. That is obvious. In the US, the media is free and independent. The Senate acts a powerful countervailing power to the US President. And the American public were taught at an early age to respect the US constitution and the Rule of Law and will not condone acts of abuse of power and corruption.Public institutions serve the American people and will not hesitate to act against those who break the law, irrespective of their status and stature. Their Constitution is the supreme law .

Our Parliament, on the other hand, is  a lame duck legislature which should be abolished to save taxpayers money. Our public officials like the Attorney-General, the Inspector-General of Police, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Chief Commissioner, and the Governor of Malaysia’s central bank are not able to enforce the law since they report to the Prime Minister, and serve at his pleasure. The Judiciary which is supposed to be our  last bastion of  justice is subservient to the powerful Executive Branch (and for that we must be eternally grateful to our most outstanding Prime Minister No. 4). We are saddled with institutions that are decrepit and dysfunctional.Our democracy is an abject failure and our confidence and trust in our government is at its lowest point in our 58 year history.–Din Merican

Recalling Watergate–a Nixonian Nightmare

by Azrul Mohd Khalib

This is the title of a 1976 movie starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. Focusing on the intrepid Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who wrote the best-selling book of the same title that the film adaptation is based on, the movie is a political thriller centred on the real life events of the Watergate conspiracy.

A scandal which began with a burglary and ultimately resulted in the resignation of US President Richard Nixon just two years after his incredibly successful re-election.

If you haven’t read the book or watched the movie, maybe it’s time that you did. Might sound awfully familiar.

In the wee morning hours of June 17, 1972, five burglars were arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) located in the Washington DC Watergate office complex. Their intent: to wiretap phones and copy confidential documents belonging to the DNC.

19710810-nixon-kissinger-smEven a Powerful Man will fall from Grace

First pursued by The Washington Post as a mere story of curiosity, it was later revealed that some of the suspects had been involved with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), had the number of a White House staffer who was also a member of President Nixon’s re-election campaign, and carried thousands in cash on their persons. These were obviously not your average burglars.

During the course of the investigation, Bernstein and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) eventually traced the money back to the re-election funds making a direct link between the burglary and the campaign. The records of transactions and the normal business practices involving the deposit checks and withdrawal of funds via cashier’s checks and money orders, made it possible to follow the money trail.

As increasingly revealing and damning new information and linkages were made public through Woodrow and Bernstein’s investigative reporting, it became clear to a growing number of people that a conspiracy was afoot which had possible ties all the way up to the presidency.

Whether Nixon was actually involved in the actual espionage efforts of the campaign is uncertain. He initially categorically denied any White House or his administration’s involvement in the burglary. But what is known is that he and his senior aides undertook measures and initiated efforts to cover up what had happened. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in “hush money” were raised for the five burglars. Evidence was destroyed.

There was even a plan to get the CIA to tell the FBI to back off from the investigation. Something so serious as to be an obstruction of justice and an abuse of presidential power.

Subsequent investigative reporting by The Post revealed the existence of a secret fund controlled by a former Attorney General (AG) which supported an information gathering campaign on the Democrats. A massive effort of political spying and sabotage was also being conducted by Nixon’s senior aides on behalf of the re-election campaign. It was clear that a conspiracy existed which reached high into the Justice Department, CIA and the White House.

However, it is interesting to note that despite all of that being exposed to the public, most of the media generally ignored the story and American voters re-elected Nixon in one of the largest landslides in American political history.

The White House denounced The Post’s coverage of the scandal as misleading and biased while maintaining a climate of intimidation, threats and harassment against the media outlet.

The months following Nixon’s re-election saw the trial of the Watergate burglars, the setting-up of a Senate select committee to investigate the incident and the appearance of a new conspiracy — a cover-up of the original cover-up.

Several of Nixon’s most senior White House aides, including the chief of staff and chief domestic policy adviser, were eventually implicated and faced prosecution for perjury and obstruction of justice. They resigned in an attempt to fall on their swords and protect the presidency, and were later indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison. The White House counsel was fired and the AG resigned.

The summer of 1973 saw the whole affair being investigated by two entities, a special independent prosecutor appointed by the new AG and the Senate Watergate Committee. During the course of their investigations, it was revealed that Nixon had installed a secret recording system which taped all phone calls and conversations in the Oval Office.

Persistent efforts to obtain the tape recordings resulted in the President demanding that the special prosecutor be fired, the new A-G and his deputy resigning in protest, and the the position of the special prosecutor eliminated.

By the time Nixon uttered the infamous phrase, “I am not a crook” in a televised press conference, his credibility with the American public was such that very few believed him. At that point almost two dozen individuals had criminal proceedings against them, been indicted or had pleaded guilty to offences related to Watergate. Despite that and an increasing volume of calls for impeachment, Nixon rejected accusations of wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office.

By mid-1974, with many of his senior aides and White House staffers facing criminal charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury, Nixon’s leading role in the entire conspiracy could no longer be disputed. Despite a Supreme Court decision to give up all the Oval Office recordings, he continued to delay.

By the end of July, the US House of Representatives had decided to vote on articles of impeachment against Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and violations of the US Constitution. The release of the remaining tapes not long after containing a conversation of what has been termed as the “Smoking Gun” provided undeniable evidence of the President’s complicity in the Watergate crimes.

Nixon’s fate was sealed. He faced certain impeachment by the US Senate. On August 8, 1974, after his role in the conspiracy finally came to light, Nixon announced his resignation as President of the United States. His successor, Gerald Ford was sworn in the very next day. A month later he pardoned Nixon for all the crimes he “committed or may have committed” while in office and ended the investigations.

The Watergate conspiracy resulted in 69 government officials being charged and 48 being found guilty.

It is important to note that till the last days of his life, Nixon never admitted to any criminal wrongdoing, only using poor judgement. It took two years before he was forced to resign. He was also never prosecuted. Years later during a TV interview with David Frost, he states that “if the President does it, it’s not illegal.”

This blatant abuse of presidential power had a significant impact on American politics. It contributed towards an atmosphere of cynicism, distrust and scepticism. It caused Americans to be more critical about their country’s political leadership, particularly the Presidency.

As a result of Watergate, the US Congress also passed legislation on campaign finance reform and probed abuses of power by national security agencies such as the CIA.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s investigative journalism won them a Pulitzer Prize and a place in history.

4 thoughts on “Recalling Watergate–a Nixonian Nightmare

  1. Dr Phua,
    This is even better…….Adam Curtis’s take on Oh Dearism. Remember the team working for Jibby’s communication team……

    Oh Dearism in action……Just watch the whole clip……What’s next? Ku Li studied in Queen Belfast University during the late 60s……….Would it end up like this so that all Malaysians would have equal rights? Catholics are minorities in Northern Ireland. Guess who is the Deputy First Minister in Northern ireland.

    Oh so…….

  2. Opponents of President Nixon had political sense 100 times better than that of Malaysia oppositions. Nixon’s opponents treated Watergate scandal first and foremost a political problem, and they used legitimate legal tool to prosecute only the aids and cohorts of Nixon initially and slowly encircled Nixon. They understood regardless how bad the person sitting in the presidential chair, they just won’t destroy the chair. In contrast, Malaysia oppositions want to use legal tool (AG) to prosecute the PM directly even before they succeed prosecuting people suspected to be supporting PM in committing accused crime in 1MDB scandal. Worse still, many people hope UMNO internal mechanism to settle the scandal by a bloodless coup without parliamentary involvement and transparency owed to Malaysia people. The notion that a political party holds the lifeline of PM while the Constitution does not bestow the impeachment power to any political parties including the party nominating the PM is subversive. Malaysia opposition wants to destroy the PM’s chair, creating a path to anarchy.

    The only consolation Malaysians have is that our politics is not (yet) as bad as most Muslim-majority countries, where assassination of head of state is justified via religious law and theological reasoning as espoused by Hassan Al-Banna, the founder of modern Islamists. But, hold on a minute, we have this Dr. Bakri from California insinuated that the PM be very careful about his life because of what the PM did. Do we really still have much left of that consolation?

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