Nixon’s Republican Party blocked investigations into his actions, as well—until they couldn’t


As disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn refuses subpoenas and the vice president dodges questions about his claims that he didn’t know anything untoward was happening (even though he was the man responsible for ensuring it wasn’t), and after we have learned that Trump’s team took direct actions to try to shutter the Flynn investigation, and as a special counsel takes over the Justice Department investigation of Russian election hacking and ties to the Trump campaign, and as still more evidence comes out of meetings between the campaign and specific Russian figures under watch by this country’s intelligence services, many, many Americans are contemplating the parallels between this administration and President Richard Nixon’s downfall.

Of particular import is the question of whether any decent Republicans still exist who would not simply grouse against a president’s crimes, but act upon them. The plain evidence suggests not: there have been no revelations that have resulted in the Republican contingent asking pertinent questions during committee hearings, rather than lecturing on the impropriety of the public finding out about those acts, and party leaders have been obsequious in their condescension to their leader.

On the other hand, when Watergate itself began to unravel a presidency there were likewise, in the beginning, no decent members of the president’s party either. That came only after Nixon crossed one line farther than he should have. Ex-defense secretary William Cohen was at that time a House Republican, a freshman. In an interview with the Washington Post, he recounted the moments he knew he would have to side with decency.

[D]uring the intermission of the hockey game Rep. William Cohen was watching, a local reporter showed up to ask about the resignation of the United States attorney general. After realizing the news was true, Cohen also realized something else: that his life in Congress, and the nation’s history, were about to take a sharp turn.

“I knew at that moment that this was going to be one of the most serious challenges I, and the nation, would ever face,” Cohen recalled of Richard M. Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in an interview this week.

He was all but alone among congressional Republicans. You could choose to frame that as courage. You could, alternatively, remember it as an act of sublime cowardice on the part of everyone else—that even when the evidence was clear that a sitting president was engaged in a White House cover-up, Republican leaders were still focused on how to support Nixon’s moves and block investigation and oversight.

Cohen recalls key impeachment meetings as if they took place last month. The fight over securing the secret tapes of Nixon’s White House discussions served as his breaking point. A senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee asked for a show of hands who would join their partisan stand opposing Democratic requests for a letter demanding the full tapes.

“I left the room,” Cohen said.

He called the chairman, Peter Rodino (D-N.J.), and began negotiating with Democrats, culminating in a meeting with two southern conservative Democrats and a handful of Republicans.

For that, he was treated as “a traitor.” That changed only after the coast was clear and the cowards of the party needed to revise their stance themselves.

Once Nixon resigned, Republicans rallied around Cohen, as did most independents. He won in a landslide and went on to the Senate in 1979 and the Pentagon in 1997.

So there you go. You could treat this as a profile of one decent man who acted morally, or you could take it as reminder that even when criminal acts take place, finding a decent man in the United States Congress who will take action to stop them is a rarity. Trump’s refusal to divest from his businesses is a consititutional affront, but has been ignored. His Nixonian acts to block investigations into his election win and the actions of his own staff have been, by and large, backed by the Republicans of both the House and Senate. 

The party is insistent on sweeping all objections to those acts under the rug, and this will continue until the exact moment when it no longer can.

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