[Viewpoint] Watergate redux?

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[Viewpoint] Watergate redux?

About a month ago, Jang Jin-su, a former public ethics official of the Prime Minister’s Office, claimed that the Blue House was behind the illegal spying operation against ordinary citizens, and concerns arose that the scandal would become like the Watergate scandal. As the month passed by, those concerns appeared to be realized. How was this similar to Watergate? And what are the implications?

First, the scandal began as a trivial incident as did Watergate with the arrest of five burglars by the police at the Watergate complex in June 1972. The illegal spying scandal was at first thought as to be a naive abuse of power by a staffer of the Prime Minister’s Office.

Second, a whistle-blower changed the whole picture. In the Watergate scandal, a source known famously as “Deep Throat” provided information to reporters from the Washington Post. The identity of the source was revealed 33 years later. He was the second-most powerful man in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mark Felt.

With Felt’s guidance, the Post ran exclusive reports that money paid to the burglars came from the campaign fund of President Richard Nixon. The While House was revealed as the string puller. Then, one of the burglars made a bombshell revelation. He sent a letter to a judge saying that the White House had attempted to cover up its involvement.

Jang’s bombshell was that the Blue House was behind the illegal spying operation and it also ordered a cover-up.

Third, in the Watergate scandal, the White House tried to hinder the investigation. Six days after the burglars were arrested, Nixon discussed with his chief of staff how to conceal the case. Regarding the idea of using the Central Intelligence Agency to obstruct the FBI investigation, Nixon instructed Chief of Staff HR Haldeman: “You call them in. Good. Good deal. Play it tough. That’s the way they play it, and that’s the way we are going to play it.”

As the FBI continued to investigate the funding of the burglary, Nixon took away investigative authority from the FBI, claiming that national security was involved. Felt, or Deep Throat, decided to feed information to the Post in an apparent protest of the White House’s pressure. Of course, Felt, who was the associate director of the FBI, also thought he could become the director if his boss was replaced because of the scandal.

According to Jang, the Blue House ordered evidence destroyed and interfered with the prosecution’s investigation.

Fourth, mysterious funds appeared in both scandals. The Watergate thieves received money from Nixon’s campaign funds through a secret account. As soon as the burglars were arrested, a White House staffer rushed to post their bail. The staffer later blackmailed the White House to pay him to keep it a secret.

In the case of Jang, he received a total of 110 million won ($97,500) for various reasons. Several presidential aides paid him with various justifications. The source of the mysterious funds is still unknown.

Fifth, a lie produces more lies and fuels the scandal. The series of lies was the highlight of the Watergate scandal, and it was the key demonstration of Nixon’s lack of morals. Right after the break in at the Watergate complex, Nixon’s press secretary called it “a third-rate burglary attempt” in order to emphasize the White House’s innocence. In a press conference, Nixon flatly declared that an investigation showed that no one from the White House was involved. As more truths were uncovered, he faced fierce criticism for having lied, and Nixon said famously, “I am not a crook.”

A high point in the scandal came when an aide to Nixon testified to Congress that the White House had an automated tape recording system. The White House was ordered to submit the tapes, but it resisted and said it would submit transcripts instead. Nixon submitted highly edited transcripts. A Senate special committee demanded the originals, but Nixon said no, claiming that national security was at stake. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, and Nixon lost.

When he was forced to submit the original tapes, Nixon made a desperate last move to conceal the truth by deleting about 18 minutes and 30 seconds of the recording. Nixon was eventually forced to release a tape that provided the so-called “smoking gun,” a conversation in which Nixon is heard saying that the CIA should be asked to stop the FBI’s Watergate investigation. The dialogue showed vividly that Nixon had ordered the cover-up from the beginning of the scandal. Nixon was forced to resign for his lies.

Regarding the illegal spying, the Blue House first denied that it had been briefed about it. But as time goes by, the scandal widens. There seems to be a long road left ahead. The Watergate scandal took two years and two months. And for the next 20 years, the Republican Party was a minority in both the Senate and the House.

* The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang
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