One of the claims running around the political world this silly season is that “Fast and Furious,” the failed ATF operation involving tracking US guns sold to Mexican drug gangs, is a scandal “worse than Watergate” — the scandal that destroyed Richard Nixon’s presidency.
On the hypothesis that almost no one on Tumblr knows anything about Watergate, I thought I’d offer a brief synopsis of that historical event so we can understand: is Fast and Furious “worse than Watergate”?
- What became the Watergate scandal can be said to have started in September 1971, when a secret team based in the White House was formed to “stop leaks” from the administration. Known as “the plumbers,” the group’s first task was to break into the psychiatrist’s office of Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department official who leaked what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” to the New York TImes. (These papers detailed the efforts the US government had made to hide our failures in the war in Vietnam. You can read The Pentagon Papers if you wish as a result of the famous and important Supreme Court case, NY Times v the United States.)
- The plumbers later investigated various senior political officials, looking for dirt, and are widely suspected to have engaged in a “dirty tricks” campaign during the 1972 Democratic Party primaries, ultimately undermining other Democratic Party candidates in favor of the very liberal Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. Eventually, the plumbers twice broke into the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building, an office/hotel/apartment complex not far from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. (The bugging equipment they planted the first time didn’t work and had to be replaced.)
- On being arrested during the second break in, on June 17, 1972, a vast coverup began. President Richard Nixon’s personal attorney, John Dean, managed a system of payoffs and hush money to the burglars and their families. Nixon used a “slush fund” of campaign contributions to make these payoffs; he also directed the CIA to tell the FBI (which was investigating the break in) that the break in was a national security matter that the FBI should just leave alone — which is pretty much the definition of obstruction of justice. (We know all this: 1) because Nixon taped his conversations in the White House; 2) John Dean eventually confessed his actions to Congress; and 3) an Associate Director of the FBI, Mark Felt, reported what he knew to two Washington Post reporters. He was known at the time as “Deep Throat.”)
- As multiple investigations continued, Nixon fired the Special Prosecutor and several senior Department of Justice officials working on the case — the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre.” He rejected calls for transcripts of the tapes (yes, on the basis of executive privilege), eventually releasing a heavily redacted version in which almost every word was blacked out. Finally, after losing the Supreme Court case, US v Nixon, tapes began to trickle out unredacted, and Nixon’s fate was sealed. He announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, and left office at noon the next day — making him the only President ever to resign. (It also made Gerald Ford the only President to have never been elected President OR Vice President — he was appointed Vice President when Nixon’s first VP, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign in a tax scandal, and then assumed the Presidency on Nixon’s resignation.)
So is “Fast and Furious” WORSE THAN WATERGATE?