Watergate memories spring to life with US President Donald Trump’s troubles

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a meeting with Republican House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. September 5, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Vastavam web: The White House seethes with intrigue and backstabbing as aides hunt for the anonymous Deep (state) Throat among them. A president feels besieged by tormentors Bob Woodward is driving him crazy so he tends his version of an enemies list, wondering aloud if he should rid himself of his attorney general or the special prosecutor or both. For months, the Trump administration and its scandals have carried whiffs of Watergate and drawn comparisons to the characters and crimes of the Nixon era.

There was John Dean again, testifying on the Hill, warning anew about a cancer on the presidency. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller is leading an independent investigation sparked by a break-in at the Democratic National Committee, the same target that opened the Watergate can of worms, though this time the burglary was digital and linked to Moscow, not the Oval Office.

President Richard Nixon first ordered his attorney general, and then the deputy, to fire the Watergate special prosecutor; they refused and quit on a convulsive weekend that gave history the Saturday Night Massacre but did not derail the independent investigation or Nixon’s collapse for long. It was Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who uncovered the Watergate break-in, getting under the president’s skin once again.

“Dem operative,” Trump fumed about Woodward. “Degenerate fool,” he said of Bernstein, who helped report a CNN Russia-probe related story that Trump contends is “a major lie.” “Everybody’s trying to get me,” Trump told an aide, according to the new Woodward book, “Fear.” The book describes a tragi-comedy inside the White House with top aides dismissing the president as an “idiot.”

In Nixon’s time, top lieutenant Henry Kissinger called his boss “meatball mind” behind his back. “It’s as if Trump is wrestling with the history of Watergate openly. It’s the president who is inviting these parallels.”

Trump’s list of those he considers enemies is obvious on his Twitter feed. It includes former political opponents, his own attorney general, his predecessor and former national security officials, whose security clearances he’s threatened. Now he’s added an anonymous senior official who authored a New York Times op-ed describing the president as amoral. The aide described a “steady state” within the administration working to temper Trump’s erratic impulses a portrait just a degree away from the “deep state” Trump says is resisting his policies. Trump said Friday he thinks the Justice Department should investigate the unnamed official’s identity.

Prosecution, litigation and the withholding of grants and contracts were considered and Nixon loyalists were asked to contribute names to the list. Nixon’s enemies list was written by Dean, the lawyer-fixer who abandoned loyalty to Nixon and helped bring down his presidency. Democrats asked Dean to appear at the Senate’s Supreme Court hearings as an expert of executive power. He presented himself as an older and wiser man. “There is much to fear from an unchecked president who is inclined to abuse his powers,” Dean told senators. “That is a fact I can attest to from personal experience.”

Dean participated broadly in the cover-up of Nixon’s culpability before breaking with the president and delivering devastating testimony to the Senate Watergate committee. He served four months for obstruction of justice; Nixon resigned from office under threat of being removed by impeachment.

Dean’s loose counterpart today: Michael Cohen, who as Trump’s personal lawyer arranged hush money to women alleged to have had affairs with Trump.Cohen pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges and said in federal court he broke campaign finance laws as part of a cover-up that Trump had directed, an accusation the president denies. Or perhaps Dean’s equivalent is Don McGahn, the White House counsel who has cooperated with investigators and sat for hours of interviews. It’s not yet clear whether McGahn gave up material damaging to the president.