If you were old enough to remember October 8, 1998. That’s the date when Impeachment proceedings were launched against President Bill Clinton. The process itself took 16 months from the House authorizing an Impeachment vote by a count of 258–176. Republicans were supported by 35 Democrats who supported the proceedings.
The year before the Impeachment started was marked by Independent Counsel Ken Starr holding a Grand Jury and steadily leaking his findings to tarnish Clinton. He eventually presented his 3,183-page report to the House of Representatives, dropping off 18 boxes of supporting material and dropping the mike. The Senate trial presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, began January 7, 1999.
There were breaking news highlights including Monica Lewinski presenting the semen-stained blue dress she’d saved for years without ever cleaning. Her alleged friend Linda Tripp appeared before the grand jury four times producing secret tapes she made of Lewinski baring her soul. When it was all said and done, it was a highly partisan affair and Clinton was acquitted on the two counts presented for trial. Republicans lost seats in the House of Representatives after failing to Impeach Clinton and Newt Gingrich who headed up the charge, resigned as House Majority Leader. Clinton apologized and went on to finish his second term with a high approval rating. That was how Clinton’s Impeachment went, Trump’s will be more like Watergate.
Watergate got very little traction in the beginning. On June 17, 1972, five inept burglars were caught breaking into the DNC headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. One of the five, James McCord, was a security coordinator for the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the Committee to Re-Elect the President, aptly named CREEP. He was fired from both positions the day after the break-in. The story would have died out but for the dogged reporting of the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The saga was played out in the film, “All The President’s Men,” starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. If you’ve seen the movie or know your history (perhaps lived it). You already know the ending. Nixon resigned when a few Republican Senators told him he “didn’t have the votes” and he quit to spare his pride the nation the trouble of kicking him out. I don’t expect Trump to have the decency to resign, but here’s where the similarities will be between the upcoming Trump Impeachment and Nixon’s Watergate.
The power of television is what made Trump the President and it’s what will bring him down. Television killed Nixon’s first chance of becoming President as he came off poorly in a televised debate with John F. Kennedy. Nixon had a five-o’clock shadow and came across sour and stiff. Kennedy was youthful and passionate and won the election. Nixon had the experience, Kennedy had the looks and energy. Trump was famous because of his television show, “The Apprentice” and reveled at any chance to perform. He took control of every media opportunity and even those who didn’t like him often watched to see what he’d say next. Impeachment will be different, and Trump will be without control.
Impeachment hearings will be a daily reminder of all the failings of a President with many. Clinton was generally well-liked and his sins as they were, weren’t viewed as that outside the norm by most Americans. Only in recent years has Bill Clinton been viewed as a negative and his popularity helped him. Trump has had negative approval ratings since his first day in office. Even the Republicans in Congress that have steadfastly supported him don’t like him. They stay with him out of fear of reprisal from either Trump’s tweets or his base. As long as the public stays with him, they will too. That’s where television comes in.
During the time of Watergate, there were but a few television networks and all but Ted Turner’s were fixated on the hearings carrying basically the same material. You’ve heard the expression, “It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.” That came from having John Dean testify on live TV about Nixon’s secret tapes. Nixon tried to keep them out but eventually, the nation heard that Nixon led the cover-up of Watergate and even approved the break-in in advance. Nixon was paranoid and would do anything he could to get an edge. Sound familiar?
There was no Fox News at the time or a network of right-wing media outlets to keep Nixon loyalists in a bubble. Trump’s problem today is that Fox is already planning for a post-Trump era. New board member Paul Ryan is already suggesting they move away from Trump. Sean Hannity has conceded the recent coverage “looks bad” and on-air personalities Shepard Smith and Carlson Tucker have hurled broadsides at each other on their shows over coverage of Trump. Impeachment will bring us all the witnesses that Trump has blocked, copies of financial records including his taxes. There have always been suggestions Trump has committed fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and more but they’ve never been dragged out on live television with his own employees testifying against him. That plus evidence he disregarded national security in favor of his personal business interests and re-election ought to be enough to make his most ardent supporters in the Senate consider putting the nation first just one time.
The Trump Impeachment will consume the news cycle on a daily basis. New reports will break regularly and people will flip on him to save themselves, just like Watergate. My interest in politics stemmed from reading all the books published afterward by the participants, especially the guilty ones like John Dean and H.R. Haldeman. The only way they got to be heroes was by baring their souls, at the expense of Richard M. Nixon. Such will be the case with Trump. they’ll all turn on him, and their evolution will be televised.