There’s been talk in the news recently about the 1973 Watergate Hearings. Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey reminded newsmen and pundits of Nixon’s firing of the Special Prosecutors during the Watergate investigation.
For me, it brings back happy memories. I was in law school during the Watergate Hearings. AND that law school was in Washington, D.C., the epicenter of the major national crisis. On top of that, Samuel Dash was a criminal law professor at my law school, Georgetown University Law Center. He was the Chief Counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee, headed by Sam Ervin, and one of the main players in the high-profile investigation. Dash became famous for his incisive, televised interrogations. We, at the law school, felt an intimate connection with the proceedings in the Senate.
For weeks, after classes, students would gather around the television in the Student Lounge to watch the live hearings. It was obviously a major topic of conversation. Sam Dash also made appearances at the law school. He’d be besieged by enthusiastic students and faculty members. Everyone wanted every bit of strategy and inside information they could get.
It wasn’t just my law school that became obsessed with the hearings. They were broadcast live on television for several weeks in May of 1973. 85% of American households watched at least some of the proceedings. Radio stations broadcast the hearings, at least in part, as well.
It was like the O.J. trial in that everyone in the country was focused on and talking about the same thing. It was a national bonding experience, at least for anti-Nixonites.
So we got to share our legal obsession with much of the country. Friends and family from New York City were all asking the same questions we were: What did the President know and when did he know it? Did the cover-up go all the way to the top? Would the revelations eventually topple the President?
It was a very exciting time. Many of us had felt oppressed by what we saw as an autocratic and corrupt administration. It was beyond gratifying to watch the giant White House cover-up unravel before our eyes. We watched a giant fall in slow motion. We knew we were witnessing history in the making. We woke up every morning and grabbed the papers for the morning news. We religiously watched the evening news and any reports in between, to get every update. We shared the latest eagerly with friends and family. (No Facebook then!) What’s going on with Trump today has a similar feel.
With Nixon, we started out being sure that Nixon and his crew would get away scott-free and that the cover-up was too air-tight to crack. We followed clues and evidence that eventually revealed the conspiracy climbing farther and farther up the chain of command in the White House.
We finally got to watch the indictment of 40 administration officials and the conviction of several of Nixon’s top aides for obstruction of justice. This, in turn, prompted the start of impeachment proceedings and forced the ultimate resignation of Nixon.
I hope we are at the beginning of another national probe, this time into Trump and his involvement with Russia. This investigation will also capture the rapt attention of a big chunk of the country. It’s fun to dream that today’s numerous investigations will be as fruitful and successful as the ones in 1973. The Watergate saga proves that ANYTHING is possible.