Witcover: Trump's invented 'Spygate' really is 'worse than Watergate'

Even Donald Trump, a widely acknowledged liar, can stumble onto the truth on occasion. He has done so in saying that his allegation that the FBI "embedded" a "spy" in his 2016 presidential campaign is "worse than Watergate."

Compared to the damage Mr. Trump is attempting to impose on the country's law-enforcement agency by demanding that the FBI itself be investigated too, the Watergate scandal was truly the "third-rate burglary" that some dismissed at the time.

Watergate was merely a bungled heist of the Democratic National Committeeheadquarters at the Watergate complex, after which Richard Nixon sought to buy the silence of the arrested break-in artists. The more serious crime was the cover-up orchestrated by him from the Oval Office, captured on tape.

The current Trump ploy, by contrast, attempts to destroy the rule of law in this country by accusing the FBI of conspiracy to bring him down. Our duly elected but reckless and dangerous president is attacking our constitutional law-enforcement agencies to protect his own political hide.

He is outrageously pitting our -- not his -- Justice Department and FBI against the investigators who legitimately are looking into any connection between the Russian meddling in our 2016 election and the Trump presidential campaign. This is clear obstruction of justice and makes Mr. Trump liable to impeachment under Article II, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution.

Desperate to hold off or sabotage the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Mr. Trump "demanded" that the Justice Department enlarge its inquiry to include his allegation of FBI's use of an informant to "spy" on his campaign. Mr. Trump says the public is labeling it "Spygate," when it was he who first used the term.

Never mind that it is, and always has been, the job of the FBI to act on information that comes to it of alleged wrongdoing, as was the case here, when one such informant did come forward.

The difference here was that pressure from Mr. Trump and the Republican House Intelligence Committee led to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calling in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in charge of the Mueller inquiry after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, once a Trump campaign official, recused himself in accord with department policy.

The president and his active collaborators are boldly attempting to hijack Mr. Mueller's legitimate investigation with a phony parallel inquiry, designed to muddy the waters and discredit the whole business that antagonizes and petrifies the man in the Oval Office.

As for the Watergate comparison, I was privileged as a younger reporter at The Washington Post to have a front-row seat at the Senate hearings at which the Nixon crimes were confirmed. What Mr. Trump is trying to pull off now is indeed worse than Watergate, in that he strives to disrupt and corrupt the judicial process in place to protect all of us from the self-serving whims of a chief executive run amok.

In the process, Mr. Trump is painting himself as some sort of super-patriot persecuted by purveyors of "fake news," which he professes to counter through his own serial deceptions. His concerted attack on critics who hold to their constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech and of the press goes hand in hand with his bold effort to stand justice on its head.

Orchestrated now by the team of Mr. Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as his private legal beagle, they are striving to make a mockery of the judicial branch of the American political system -- the one remaining branch that now offers some hope of resistance to the scandal of Trumpism.

The legislative branch, in both parties, seems paralyzed in indecision or ineptness to assert any effective voice or role in the matter. The old Republican establishment is immobilized by the Trump takeover and the Democrats are reduced to teeth-gnashing over the dilemma.

In all this, the congressional midterm elections increasingly loom as the battleground for breaking the political impasse facing a country in the hands of a president motivated by self-preservation beyond any greater general concept of "making America great again."

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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