Where I Stand:

Amid echoes of Watergate, courage under fire is a necessity

Sun, May 21, 2017 (2 a.m.)

It is early. No one is resigning. And no one is even asking.

I am not sure about some 40 percent of the American public that is convinced or has convinced itself that President Donald Trump is getting a bad rap and that this thing with the Russians is just some made-up conspiracy by the Democrats and exacerbated by the fake media, but the other 60 percent of Americans who can’t believe their eyes and ears on an almost-daily basis is pleased to hear there is a special counsel in the name of former FBI Director Robert Mueller.

As I write this, I am sitting in my office where in the corner sits an important but little-known safe that has either been in my father’s office or mine for almost 60 years. It is the safe that those who have studied Watergate both in real time and in historical terms have said was a cause of President Richard Nixon’s downfall.

The whys and wherefores for that conclusion is a long story that combines Nixon’s paranoia with Howard Hughes’ penchant for trying to buy all that he wanted, but the bottom line is that this safe in my office is a reminder of how fragile our political system can be and how significant can be the fallout from missteps emanating from the Oval Office.

Not that I need a reminder since I lived those Watergate days — both before we knew we were in the middle of it and ever since — but the past week or so has begun to drudge up the particulars. People are drawing comparisons between Trump’s firing with ridiculous pretext of the former FBI director, James Comey, and Nixon’s trying to get somebody, anybody, to fire Archibald Cox, the independent special prosecutor who was hot on Nixon’s trail.

Both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy attorney general, William Ruckelshaus, resigned their offices rather than succumb to Nixon’s order to fire the man who was about to nail Nixon to the proverbial wall. Yes, Nixon could fire his attorney general, but he couldn’t fire the special prosecutor, so he went down the list until he found someone who would do the dirty work. (An interesting tidbit of history that I had forgotten: The man who finally agreed to do the president’s bidding was the solicitor general of the United States and the man next up in the attorney general’s box, Robert Bork.)

The point here is simple. There were men of principle who resigned their jobs, their very important and meaningful and powerful jobs, rather than do what the president of the United States wanted and which they knew was wrong.

Yes, there was a time when courage under fire took place not only on the battlefield but also on the political field of battle. When our democratic institutions, our Constitution and our bedrock principle of the separation of powers among the executive, legislative and judicial branches was at stake, it took men of courage to save our democracy. Or at least save it from a major blow from which it might not recover.

So, here we are in 2017, some 45 years after the break-in and the specter of Watergate has raised its ugly head again. This time, however, the questions to be answered are not about a third-rate burglary of the Watergate Hotel or some break-ins of Nixon’s enemies offices or even my father’s newspaper office almost 2,100 miles from Washington, D.C. No, this time the subject under investigation is an enemy of the United States of America.

The 40 percent of Americans who refuse to understand the gravity of the matter notwithstanding, it is beyond doubt in the minds of our intelligence services that Russia meddled “big league” in our 2016 elections. Our free and fair elections — the hallmark of our democratic way of life — were neither completely free nor fair because the Russians decided to interfere.

Whether they had help from the inside and the extent of that help is a proper subject of inquiry by both the Congress and the special counsel because the American people have the absolute right to know if their votes actually mean something.

So now the investigators will go about their work outside of the political lights that shine so brightly depending upon which party thinks it has the upper hand. Now it will be the special counsel who will seek out the evidence and make whatever determinations he deems appropriate.

And now, perhaps, the Congress and the president can get to doing what the American people expect their president and Congress to do. And that is to run the government for the benefit of all Americans.

If that time comes, however, when the special counsel decides that there were criminal actions taken involving Russian meddling and American peddling, then the time will surely come for people of courage to stand up.

When it was Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes and Hugh Scott — representing the GOP leadership — who stood tall to tell President Nixon that he had finally told one lie too many and it was time for him to resign for the good of the country, the president accepted their counsel.

I wonder who the Goldwaters and Rhodeses and Scotts of our time are in the U.S. Congress. Sen. John McCain, who comes from the same state as Goldwater and Rhodes, is a man of courage and will probably stand up if necessary. But who else will stand with him?

I really hope, though, that it will not be necessary because our country is not as strong as it was in the days of Watergate. Everybody, whether they liked it or not — and many didn’t like it at all — understood what Nixon had done and knew he had to go. Nobody fooled themselves into believing otherwise.

It takes courage to admit the truth. We all need a little help in that regard. That’s why I keep this safe close by as a reminder.

Watergates do happen and they, or something more nefarious, can happen again.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.

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