This Halloween is the haunting of Hillary, where her final political act could well be a ghostly spectre of her first political act, which happened some 40 years ago. She was just a year out of Yale Law School, when she went to work for House Judiciary Committee.
Her job? Investigating President Nixon’s involvement in the break in of Democratic National Committee Watergate headquarters just before his 1972 landslide reelection, and the cover-up that followed.
I was a young West Wing research assistant working on Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council Staff. Hillary was a young lawyer working on the Watergate Committee. The Watergate Scandal and Nixon’s resignation was a political earthquake, and had a formative influence on many of our generation.
The comparisons of Secretary Clinton’s email scandal are eerily similar to Nixon’s Watergate scandal. The evidence against Hillary is contained in her emails with aides. The evidence against Nixon was contained in tapes of his Oval Office meetings with aides.
The very fact that Hillary had a private email server was discovered almost by accident, in an unrelated investigation into the Benghazi scandal. Similarly, Nixon’s private taping system in the Oval Office was discovered almost by accident, in unrelated investigation into the Watergate break-in.
The FBI has reopened its case against Hillary because they found new evidence while pursuing a separate investigation into the creepy sexual exploits of Anthony Weiner, husband of Hillary’s closest aide. The evidence of Nixon’s relationship to Watergate came from investigations into his staff’s involvement in the cover up.
It was nearly two years between the Watergate break in, and Nixon’s forced resignation. Hillary’s private server was discovered over a year ago, and it will take months before the FBI can conclude its investigation.
The relentless pursuit and final humiliation of Nixon were the result of years of investigations by Congress and the leaks of Deep Throat, an anonymous source within the FBI, who provided a steady drip of information about Nixon administration wrongdoings.
Director Comey’s decision to reveal that the FBI was reopening the investigation into Secretary Clinton based on new evidence has many scratching their heads, especially coming just a few days before the election. Why, and why now? The word around power circles is he did it because some in the FBI are in near open revolt over his previous refusal to recommend that the Department of Justice proceed with the Clinton investigation. Was a new Deep Throat about to emerge, just as one had during Watergate?
It was always said that if Nixon had only destroyed the Watergate tapes, he could have ridden out the scandal and his presidency might have survived. But he didn’t destroy the tapes. Even if he had wanted to in the end, it was too late. Ultimately Nixon was forced to resign the presidency or face trial, conviction and perhaps a jail sentence.
Presumably Clinton thought she had learned that lesson – always be able to destroy the evidence – which is why she set up a private email server before joining the Obama administration. She wouldn’t have known in advance what she would need to keep out of prying eyes – perhaps it would be the pay to play scheme that linked foreign donations to the Clinton foundation to her decisions as Secretary of State. Perhaps it was the “off the books” policy initiatives like her role in the Iran nuclear deal, or supplying arms to “friendly” Libyan or Syrian rebel groups that turned those weapons on our own people.
As long as she had a private server, she could decide later what history would know – and if she ever got into trouble she could always delete the emails. She could do what Nixon had failed to do -- destroy the evidence.
But it now seems unlikely that the evidence was ever really destroyed. WikiLeaks has some of the emails. Some may have been on the computers of her aides – or their spouses.
No one knows where this new FBI investigation will lead. Maybe, as with Nixon and Watergate, Secretary Clinton’s most trusted aides will be forced to testify against her to protect themselves. Maybe the Justice Department will charge Secretary Clinton with a crime. Maybe the political fallout will be so significant she will lose the election. Maybe she will be elected but unable to govern effectively because her presidency will be dogged for months, and even years, by investigations and scandals. No one can know that now.
What we do know is that this is not going away. Hillary advanced through her political career thinking if she could always destroy the evidence she and the rest of Clinton Inc. could never be held responsible for their actions.
That was the wrong lesson to learn from Watergate. The right lesson was don’t do the crime in the first place.
The ghost of Watergate still roams the corridors of power. This won’t be a Happy Halloween for Hillary.