Whitewater vs. Watergate.
Whitewater vs. Watergate. Both are political sandals that have rocked the nation. As Watergate unraveled, many of Nixon\'s dirty tactics were learned, including assorted lists of enemies (a number of which became targets of IRS tax audits), wiretapping, political sabotage, burglary, blackballing, and smear campaigns. Similarly, as Whitewater unfolded, the scandal appeared to involve more than just an illegal loan. It touched on possible hush money paid to witnesses and includes the acquisition of more than 900 confidential FBI files on Bush and Reagan appointees. In many aspects, the two are very similar. They are alike in the cover-ups they both produced. But they still are about two totally different events. Each of these scandals is associated with a central criminal event and both involved a web of political intrigue.1
First, what were Whitewater and Watergate? Whitewater started as a land development of riverfront property in Arkansas in the 1980s. The Clintons received a large share of the development without putting up any money. The development went bad, so additional capital was needed. There is evidence and testimony suggesting that this cash was obtained illegally from the federal government and never paid back. As for Watergate - though it was revealed by the Senate Watergate committee as an unprecedented abuse of presidential power that was extremely dangerous to the country, it is remembered 25 years later as a strange and unsuccessful burglary in the Watergate office building by people linked to the reelection committee of Nixon. But Watergate was so much more than a political burglary. The Senate hearings showed Watergate was composed of constant criminality by the Nixon White House, and was driven by an extreme commitment to maintain control of power by any means, including criminal conduct. It included the break-in of a psychiatrist\'s office for the purpose of smearing Daniel Elsberg - the leaker of the Pentagon Papers; the misuse of the IRS and other federal agencies to punish those on the president\'s \"enemies list\"; the illegal wiretapping of journalists and members of Nixon\'s own administration; and the purposeful editing of government documents to enhance a political agenda.2
Many similarities come up when discussing Whitewater and Watergate. The scandals may be separated by two decades, but much irony is evident when they are compared. For example, in 1974, Hillary Rodham was employed as a lawyer by the House Judiciary Committee\'s impeachment inquiry, along with Bernard Nussbaum, former chief counsel at the Clinton White House. Now the first lady is a central figure in the Whitewater affair, and Sam Dash, the Senate Watergate Committee\'s chief counsel, is serving as ethics adviser to Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr.3
Nixon biographer Roger Morris states that the tragedy in both cases is tied in silence. Both scandals have unindicted co-conspirators - Clinton\'s Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey in Whitewater, and Nixon himself for the Watergate cover-up. Both contain allegations of hush money. Watergate burglar and Nixon adviser Howard Hunt supposedly demanded one million dollars up front to keep quiet, and Webster Hubbell is being investigated for allegedly receiving more than $560,000 for his silence on Whitewater.
Both of the administrations have seen many of their closest people indicted. Watergate started out as five clumsy burglars linked to a CIA bust in the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee, and ended in 40 government officials and Nixon associates being charged with 19 imprisoned. It also included President Richard Nixon\'s resignation. Clinton\'s scandal-ridden presidency has seen its share of convictions, too. The Whitewater real-estate deal and campaign-finance irregularities of Whitewater forced the resignation of Clinton\'s first deputy Treasury secretary, Roger Altman, and led to convictions of former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell, Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker, and James and Susan McDougal. There was also a Whitewater-connected investigation into the alleged cover-up of the death of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster.
One political issue that connects Watergate and Whitewater is the destructive effect of increasing amounts of money for major political campaigns. People seeking loopholes and the competitive advantage have abolished the Watergate-inspired legislation created to reform campaign financing. There is no question that violations by people identified with both major parties are justifiable targets of congressional investigation.
Another serious allegation is what Bill Hogan, director of investigative projects for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan Washington group, calls \"the evils of secret money\" in both the Nixon and Clinton administrations. \"When you give, you want something for your money - and you get it,\" he said. In Clinton\'s case, the question for the FBI is what policy favors were granted to big-buck donors linked to China. National-security issues also were a concern during Watergate, according to Nixon biographer Morris. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger believed former Defense Department employee Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, was a national-security threat. In 1971 Ehrlichman hired several of the Watergate burglars to break into Ellsberg\'s psychiatrist\'s office because Kissinger believed Ellsberg had intimate knowledge about nuclear-missile retaliation plans.
It is still difficult to ignore the legal parallels between the scandals such as the executive-privilege argument Nixon unsuccessfully tried to use to keep White House tape recordings secret. Similarly, Clinton is arguing executive privilege and attorney-client privilege to keep from releasing White House notes about damage-control conferences involving, for example, his wife. In some ways Whitewater has resurrected Watergate; likewise, Watergate has prevented Whitewater from disappearing. Both have become the measuring devices of scandals, with hundreds of books written about each of them. But the most similar thing about the two is that Watergate was wrong, and Whitewater was wrong.
There are also many differences between Whitewater and Watergate. One of the main differences was that Watergate involved the abuse of power by President Richard Nixon while he was in office. Whitewater-related events occurred before President Bill Clinton was even elected.
\"I don\'t think it is a legitimate comparison,\" says Ben-Veniste, the former chief minority counsel on the Senate Whitewater Committee who also ran a task force under Watergate Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski. \"At the heart of Watergate was a gross abuse of presidential power, whereas Whitewater has its roots in activities that occurred a decade before Clinton became president.\" He also points out that it seems likely that Nixon not only was involved in the Watergate cover-up, but also was aware of the 1972 break-in. He bases this on new evidence, including the diaries of the late H.R. Haldeman, Nixon\'s chief of staff. He claims that no hard evidence links the Clintons to any criminal wrongdoing.
The late Sam Ervin, who chaired the Senate Watergate committee, said during the public hearings that he believed Watergate was the greatest tragedy the United States had ever suffered. It remains so today. During the argument in the committee\'s suit for the White House tapes, Nixon\'s lawyer stated to Judge John Sirica that the president believed he was as absolute a monarch, such as Louis XIV. Only four years at a time and was not subject to the process of any court in the land, except a court of impeachment. Later, after Nixon resigned, interviewer David Frost asked him how he could justify the crimes he had committed. Nixon replied, \"You have it wrong, Mr. Frost. When the president does it, it cannot be illegal.\" The Watergate affair remains the paragon for political conspiracy and secret operations that Whitewater has yet to approach.
An attempt to compare the Watergate tragedy to the Clinton administration\'s problems cannot succeed if one looks at the facts in each case. For example, take the argument that Watergate was just a third-rate burglary. Watergate was not really about a third-rate burglary gone wrong - the break-in and wiretapping of Democratic National Committee headquarters authorized by Nixon insiders at the highest level, if not by the president himself. That in itself is a big deal. But the \"third-rate burglary\" tag was created to divert attention from top officials involved. The break-in was just one of abuses of presidential power fittingly called the \"White House horrors\" by John Mitchell, attorney general of the United States who was imprisoned for his role in Watergate.
The cover-up was not an unreasonable response to an unimportant event. Actually, it became necessary because of the threat that the co-conspirator\'s abuses of governmental authority might become known if measures were not taken. Therefore, the key difference between Watergate and Whitewater is simple - Watergate was about the flagrant abuse of power trusted to the nation\'s highest elected and appointed officials. Whitewater is about President and Mrs. Clinton\'s wrongdoings that affected some of their investment deals that they had gone into with James McDougal the decade before Clinton was elected.
In Watergate, Nixon directed the deputy director of the CIA to falsely claim to the FBI that national-security interests of the United States would be jeopardized by a full investigation of the money trail left by the Watergate burglars. Nixon\'s advisers were instructed by the president to lie under oath. Perjury was committed by several of these officials, including the former attorney general and Nixon\'s chief of staff. Evidence of one of the burglars was found in the White House safe and was destroyed by the FBI\'s acting director on orders of Nixon\'s men. Offers of presidential clemency was extended to one of the burglars, and all were paid significant sums of cash from a slush fund controlled by the president and his chief of staff. Transcripts and summaries of illegally recorded conversations at Democratic headquarters and other incriminating evidence was burned or shredded, and the list goes on. In Whitewater, the complaint is that the Clinton administration has dragged its feet in producing the hundreds of thousands of documents demanded by various congressional committees.
Can the late and abnormal production of records from the president\'s wife\'s law practice years before her husband was elected president with the deliberate erasure of 18-and-a-half minutes of a tape-recorded conversation between Nixon and H.R. Haldeman be compared? The contents of the Nixon tape, had they not been destroyed, would possibly have supplied the necessary evidence, months ahead of Nixon\'s resignation from office.17
Another difference between Whitewater and Watergate was the presidents\' wives. Pat Nixon never was touched by the scandal as far as the public knows. One the other hand, Hillary Rodham Clinton, although she attempts to deny it and scoffs at allegations to the contrary, was deeply involved not only in Whitewater but in almost every bit of scandal that has touched the Clinton White House.18
The rules of the game have also changed during this quarter-century. The demands for whole categories of White House documents - unthinkable in 1974, form a certain link to Watergate: It now is much easier to criticize a president for not being forthcoming, no matter what the demands. By comparison, the subpoena for recorded conversations by the Watergate prosecutor was based on evidence relating to specific conversations about the cover-up. The dragnet approach that is now routinely applied was not attempted in Watergate, nor would the courts have tolerated it.19
Another area of great change is in the media. What used to be a wholesome desire to imitate the world-famous Watergate team of Woodward and Bernstein has changed into a desperate competition among some in the media for fame and glory, regardless of the value. This has led to the widespread tabloidizing, to the extent that journalistic effort often is trampled by sensationalism for the sake of its entertainment value. Polls have expressed the slippage in public esteem in which journalists are held. Many notable journalists have resigned, and now seek to call attention to the changes from outside the profession.20
A showing that Whitewater has had the same or similar impact on the nation as Watergate is wrong, and the effort to indicate such a relationship is a ridiculous ploy of the media. The only thing Whitewater has in common with Watergate is \"water.\" There is hardly any public reaction to Whitewater in comparison to Watergate.
Whitewater and Watergate were both scandals that have hurt the nation and the people\'s trust. They both produced major cover-ups and there is still much that can be learned about each that has not yet been revealed. The good thing about the scandals is that they can be analyzed so that hopefully they are not repeated in the future.