Bill Kaplan: Missile strike is an echo of Watergate

Photo by Saiyna Bashir, The Capital Times

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.

In October, 1973 Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus similarly refused and was forced out. Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork agreed to fire Cox. A few days later the Nixon administration ordered a worldwide military alert of U.S. forces, including nuclear weapons. The press questioned whether it was a response to possible Soviet (Russian) intervention in the Middle East, as claimed, or an attempt to distract from Watergate and Cox’s dismissal.

The past is prologue. Last Monday, the FBI raided the office of Trump’s personal lawyer and bagman, Michael Cohen. “They seized evidence of possible federal crimes – including bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations related to payoffs made to women, including a porn actress, who say they had affairs with the president before he took office and were paid off and intimidated into silence” (New York Times).

The Times opined: “That evening (Monday) the president surrounded himself with the top American military officials (to consider military action against Syria over its use of chemical weapons) and launched unbidden into a tirade against … American law enforcement officials … accusing them of ‘an attack on our country’.” Trump, acting like a tin-pot dictator, castigated Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who leads the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion by Trump campaign officials and obstruction of justice. Mueller has indicted 19 individuals, with several pleading guilty and cooperating.

Meanwhile, the Times and Washington Post reported about offers of White House pardons for those indicted. Moreover, Trump floated a trial balloon, saying “many people” want him to “fire” Mueller. Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson has called for Mueller to “resign”, a difference without a distinction. And, House GOP Speaker Paul Ryan says the White House has given him “assurances” that Mueller will not be fired. In contrast, former House GOP Speaker John Boehner called firing Mueller “ a very bad idea. … There’s no reason why those investigations should be impeded at all”.

On Friday, Trump ordered a missile strike against Syria. He later tweeted “Mission Accomplished!”, seemingly oblivious to “the premature declaration that haunted George W. Bush” (Washington Post). Johnson and Ryan offered “thoughts and prayers”. While Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin supported the missile strike, she was critical, saying that Trump lacked a “comprehensive strategy” and needed “congressional authorization” of military action. Wisconsin GOP Representative Mike Gallagher, a former U.S. Marine, wants the 9-11 authorization for military action to be replaced. He said: “We’re using (it) to kill people that weren’t even born on 9-11”. Well-stated.

Finally, Washington Post conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin opined: “The queasy feeling that the president’s decision to use military force – or even the timing of the strike – may be influenced by personal, political factors underscores the degree to which the president has forfeited his moral authority and undermined his credibility”. The missile strike against Syria is an echo of Watergate.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

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