White House

Russiagate’s Epic Fail vs. Watergate’s Windfall

Richard Nixon (The Nixon Library and Museum)
This tale of two investigations is revealing.

Like Captain Ahab, Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has spent eleven months frantically hunting a giant whale. So far, Mueller has harpooned a couple of cod and a few salmon. But these fish have yet to demonstrate that the huge, ocean-going mammal in question merits capture. And Mueller’s barely productive odyssey is an enormous embarrassment compared with the mass ichthyocide that was the Watergate investigation, even at the equivalent stage in that long, national nightmare.

The FBI’s Russiagate inquiry “began in late July” 2016, as its former director, James Comey, told the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017. The intervening year and nine months — including Mueller’s subsequent appointment last May 17 — have witnessed:

• October 30, 2017: Former Trump-campaign chief Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were indicted on twelve counts, among them conspiracy and money laundering. These charges concern alleged illegality before their work for Trump. While Manafort professes innocence, Gates pleaded guilty last February 23 to conspiracy and lying to investigators.

• October 30: Former Trump-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about conversations with Russian contacts.

• December 1: Former national-security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about diplomatic discussions with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., after the 2016 election. However, Comey reportedly has said that the FBI agents who interviewed Flynn believe that he did not lie to them. Comey himself disputes these accounts. “I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos. “I don’t remember even intending to say that. So my recollection is, I never said that to anybody.”

• February 16, 2018: Thirteen Russian citizens were indicted for meddling in 2016’s U.S. election. As he unveiled these charges, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declared: “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” So, there was no Russian collusion here.

• April 3: After a February 20 guilty plea, attorney Alex van der Zwann received a 30-day prison sentence and a $20,000 fine for lying to the FBI about his Ukrainian-related legal work in 2012 and his discussions with Gates. As Axios noted, this Dutchman is the only person sentenced in this case so far.

While these people either admitted to or are accused of wrongdoing, none has been charged with Trump/Russian collusion.

Now, juxtapose Mueller’s sashimi plate with the fish market that was the FBI’s Watergate probe and ensuing actions by  special prosecutor Archibald Cox (who was sacked on October 20, 1973 in the so-called Saturday Night Massacre) and his replacement, Leon Jaworski.

The FBI’s sleuthing began the same morning as the notorious break-in at the Democratic National Committee — June 17, 1972. According to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s The Final Days, contemporaneous news reports and official documents, and assorted Watergate websites, the corresponding year and nine months included:

• October 10, 1972: The Washington Post connected the break-in with “a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon re-election effort,” thus confirming a holistic conspiracy of electoral illegality.

• January 11, 1973: Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt pleaded guilty to burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping. Federal judge “Maximum” John Sirica sentenced him to 2.5 to eight years’ confinement. (Like most of the president’s men, Hunt did not serve his full term.)

A 123-page FBI summary of this scandal, dated July 5, 1974, adds: “Hunt is alleged to have demanded substantial funds from the Committee to Re-Elect the President and the White House in order to maintain silence in regard to his activities. Hunt’s wife died on December 8, 1972, in an aircraft crash in Chicago. Bureau agents recovered $10,000 in one hundred dollar bills in Mrs. Hunt’s purse at the time of the crash.” This sum approaches $59,000 today.

• January 15: Burglars Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Frank Sturgis pleaded guilty to wiretapping. Martinez and Sturgis also pleaded guilty to burglary. Their individual sentences spanned between one and six years on ice.

• January 30: Burglar James McCord and, in the FBI’s estimation, “prime mover” G. Gordon Liddy were convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping. Sirica sentenced McCord to one to five years in prison; Liddy to 20 years.

• June 28: White House “hush money” bagman Fred LaRue pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was handed one to three years behind bars.

• August 16: Jeb Stuart Magruder, former deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. He was sentenced to ten months in prison.

• November 6: Nixon-campaign dirty trickster Donald Segretti pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor counts of distributing phony campaign literature and received six months of incarceration.

• November 29: Former White House appointments secretary Dwight Chapin was indicted for lying to the Watergate grand jury. He earned a 10-to-30-month sentence.

• November 30: Former White House Counsel John W. Dean III pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice. He scored one to four years in the clink.

• November 30: Egil “Bud” Krogh — leader of the news-leak-tightening White House “Plumbers Unit” — pleaded guilty to conspiring in the September 1971 break-in at the Los Angeles office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, Pentagon Papers author Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Sentence: two to six years.

• February 25, 1974: CREEP fundraiser Herbert Kalmbach pleaded guilty to destroying donation records (sentence: six to 18 months) and promising a political supporter an ambassadorship (six months).

• March 1: White House special counsel Charles Colson, domestic-policy adviser John Ehrlichman, chief-of-staff Harry Robbins “H.R. Bob” Haldeman, and attorney general John Mitchell (all having resigned) were indicted for obstruction of justice. Ehrlichman and Mitchell also faced conspiracy and perjury charges. Their eventual sentences ranged between one and eight years.

The same day, President Richard M. Nixon was named an “unindicted conspirator,” placing him at the center of this catastrophe. Five months later, he resigned. Nixon remains the first and only U.S. commander-in-chief to have done so.

In a humiliating contrast to these legendary law-enforcement victories, Mueller has yet to prove that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. If there were as little to Watergate as there is to Russiagate, Nixon would have finished his second term, South Vietnam most likely would have stayed free, and Cambodia’s killing fields never would have opened.

But Mueller’s epic fail has not dampened his overzealousness or that of other prosecutors who follow his lead. Acting upon Mueller’s referral, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York executed a search warrant and, with the FBI’s assistance, raided the office, home, and hotel room of President Trump’s personal lawyer — despite Michael Cohen’s earlier cooperation.

This action assaulted the centuries-old institution of attorney-client privilege. This intrusion also has no apparent tie to Trump/Russia collusion. Instead, the feds reportedly are probing Cohen’s non-disclosure agreement with porn star Stormy Daniels, the notorious Access Hollywood tape, urinating prostitutes, and questions about Cohen’s investments in Gotham taxis.

This is light years from Mueller’s original assignment: To determine if Team Trump conspired with the Kremlin to win the White House.

And that’s the point: to propel such doubts, through the midterm elections, and perhaps beyond.

So far, Mueller has presented zero evidence of any such plot.

The purpose of Mueller’s probe seems simply to probe. Rather than announce that he has found bupkis to tie Trump or his campaign to any Russian effort to secure the Oval Office, Mueller and his pack of pro-Hillary prosecutors keep on keeping on. Remember: Mueller’s team is not a fair and balanced cadre of career prosecutors. Andrew Weissman attended Hillary’s election-night party. James Quarles and Jeannie Rhee maxed out as contributors to Hillary’s campaign, while seven others donated to her candidacy, though less lavishly. Aaron Zebley defended Hillary in various legal actions, and represented Justin Cooper, a  technological aide. Cooper, in turn, literally demolished Hillary’s cell phones with a hammer.

These anti-Trump liberals have every reason to keep their investigation going and going and going and going and going. The Mueller probe’s mere presence anchors a thundercloud permanently over the White House. News of Trump’s domestic and international victories constantly must compete with the latest leaks about whichever bucket of sea water Team Mueller has discovered somewhere. Meanwhile, a whiff of suspicion lingers around Trump. Despite the absence of proof that Trump cavorted with the Kremlin, tens of millions of Americans still wonder what Trump might have done wrong, and when the surveillance tape of him plotting and planning with Putin, in perfect Russian, finally will emerge and vindicate the Left.

And that’s the point: to propel such doubts, through the midterm elections, and perhaps beyond.

As this probe seeps like a rising tide into territory many nautical miles from its origin, Mueller and his gang of Trump-haters will endeavor to drown Trump. What began as an urgent quest for possible treason has devolved into a prosecutorial torpedo barrage against the president of the United States.

William de Wolff contributed research for this piece.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.


The Latest