Last night I decided to rewatch Alan Pukula’s “All the President’s Men.” In case your too young or forgetful to remember, it was based on the book of the same name by. Washington Post junior reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. They broke the Watergate story by following it from the June 17, 1972 break in at the Democratic National Headquarters to the White House, which lead to many resignations, convictions of the President Nixon’s men and the eventual resignation of Nixon two years later on August 9, 1974. The film was made in 1976.
Watergate not only brought down Nixon but it probably changed the way we looked at the presidency and government in general. The story seems quite relevant today in light of the Russian Probe into meddling in the 2016 election and the possible collusion and possible obstruction by candidate, now President Trump. There are certainly differences but many parallels. Republican Presidents, dirty tricks in elections, special prosecutors, administration denials of involvement, the President’s repeated claim of innocence.
It was fascinating to watch Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) and Woodward (Robert Redford) track down leads that led them closer and closer to the White House. And they had to convince the Post publisher Ben Bradley (Jason Robards) that they had confirmed, reliable sources for their stories. That’s the same Washington Post that today President Trump includes in his list of “fake” media outlets. The green reporters also had a secret informant, “Deep Throat,” although reluctant to give new information, he was usually willing to confirm that they were on solid ground. In 2005, Deep Throat was identified as a former FBI agent, Mark Felt. This is the same FBI that President Trump has criticized for being soft on Hillary Clinton, unfair to him, and most recently spending to much time on the Russian probe instead of stopping school shootings.
The movie only shows the early part of the unfolding scandal. The main Congressional investigation and exposure of the administration’s involvement in many illegal activities is summarized to a series of newspaper headlines tapped out on a typewriter (manual no less). What followed in 1973 was a Senate Committee hearings that were televised, a special counsel, Archibald Cox, appointed to the Committee by the new Attorney General, Eliot Richardson. Nixon’s first Attorney General who resigned to become chairman of the Committee to Reelect the President would be convicted to conspiracy, obstruction of justice and perjury. The second Richard Kleindienst was fired due to his friendship with close Nixon aides Haldernam and Ehrlichman who also resigned, were indicted, convicted and served prison time.
In 1973-74 we lived in New Hope with John and Barbara Paglione. I clearly remember coming home from work and we all of gathered around the TV watching the Senate Hearings chaired by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina. By the way, the Congress had a Democratic majority. There was a constant parade of names. Along with Mitchell, Halderman, Erlichman, we heard Dean, Colson, Hunt, McCord, Liddy, Butterfield, Magruder, in all 40 government officials were indicted; thirty some were convicted. The Vice President, Spirio Agnew resigned after facing charges of conspiracy, bibrery and fraud, unconnected with the Watergate Scandal.
Two phrases became cliche during the investigation, “follow the money,” and “what did the President know, and when?” Final answers finally came when it was discovered that conversations in the Oval Office were tape recorded. When special counsel Archibald Cox asked for the tapes, Nixon refused and fired Cox. Attorney General Richardson and others resigned. The event became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. You may have hear the phrase used recently when Trump has considered firing special prosecutor, Robert Mueller. I’ve wondered is Trump familiar with Watergate? It sometimes seems he’s making the same mistakes as Nixon.
Nixon finally agreed to transcribe transcripts, but it was eventually discovered that 18 1/2 minutes were missing. Under impeachment pressure, in August 1974, Nixon resigned. Nixon’s and the presidents men’s downfall may have come more from “cover ups” and “lies” than the actual actions, as illegal as they may have been. As we watch the current Russian probe, it seems many of the actors have not learned this historic lesson.
Today there are three investigations, House, Senate and Special Counsel. The House and Senate are controlled by Republicans (unlike the 1970s) who are not eager to go after the President. Mueller’s Special Council probe has issued indictments (against Trump aides and Russians) and accepted several guilty pleas but none have directly implicated the President in collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice. Trump claims that’s a vindication; more likely just not a closed case. What’s hard to believe is how firmly Trump ignores the obvious, confirmed by his intelligence agencies, Russian meddled. For many Democrats, liberals this just points to his guilt; his supporters claim it’s the Democrats, Clinton and Obama are always responsible.
The 1970s culture is different from today’s. Typewriters, telephones (land lines, we call them), newspapers and cigarettes have been replaced by computers, social media, cell phones, cable TV and no smoking signs. Although news sources have always had a partisan bent, today for instance CNN and FOX portray two different worlds. The President and his followers adore the latter and claim the former is all “fake.” Liberals dispel FOX as fantasy propaganda. What does a person believe?
I won’t speculate about what the current investigation will discover. I don’t think it’s over as some have suggested. I think more heads will fall. Collusion? Cover up? I don’t know. I do hope President Trump will admit Russian involvement in the election and try to do something to protect the next election. It’s fascinating that it seems Russia’s purpose is to sow discord; to question democratic institutions, and then to support Trump.
I read that Redford has made a film, “All the President’s Men revisited.” Will try to watch it tonight. Stay tuned.