When I was a student at Mississippi State University back in the 1990’s, I ran for a campus-wide office in the student association. Since I was not a member of a fraternity, my campaign did not have the natural base of support that my “Greek” opponents enjoyed. So I needed a way to motivate the non-Greeks on campus to come out in droves to support their fellow independent.
When Washington politicians want to motivate their core supporters, they typically resort to class warfare. So I reasoned that if class warfare worked in real life, it would also work in a campus-wide campaign where 80 percent of the student body was not involved in a Greek organization.
To achieve my goal, I needed to communicate to the student body, in the most entertaining way possible, that I was not a member of a fraternity. Of course this was before the advent of Twitter, Facebook or, for that matter, much of the World Wide Web. So the only means of mass communication at my disposal was the school newspaper.
My “brilliant” idea was to do a half-page ad in the paper. The ad would start with my picture on the left. Slight changes would be made to the first picture to make the second picture. Then the second picture would be altered to make the third picture. Eventually, these changes would gradually “morph” my original picture into that of President Richard Nixon. Underneath the set of pictures would be the caption: “I am not a Greek!”
Looking back, I can say that this was one of the dumbest ideas I have ever conceived. Fortunately, I didn’t have the money to pay for the aforesaid photographic transformation, particularly given the embryonic stage of digital technology in 1997. I also had a couple of really good friends who talked me out of this. But unfortunately these friends STILL remind me of my folly to this day, more than twenty years later.
My friends recognized that morphing into Richard Nixon is never a good idea. That was true in 1997. It is still true in 2017.
Depending upon which side of the political spectrum one falls, it would appear that Presidents Trump and/or Obama are morphing rapidly into Richard Nixon.
Some would say that Mr. Trump is as paranoid today as Mr. Nixon was in 1972. Back then, Mr. Nixon believed that the whole world was against him. This was especially true with the media. Several reporters were on Mr. Nixon’s “Enemies List.” (Incidentally, after its existence was revealed during the Watergate Hearings, Daniel Schorr actually read his name from the list while reporting on live television.)
Given Mr. Trump’s unabashed antipathy toward the “fake news” media (and to be fair to the president, he seems to be referring to only a few media outlets), the correlation to Richard Nixon is not completely without merit. Moreover, his recent tweets describing how Mr. Obama bugged his campaign, if left uncorroborated, would tend to support such an unflattering comparison.
With that being said, what is more Nixonian than bugging a political opponent’s campaign offices?
Although President Trump may be incorrect (or imprecise) as he tweets about his campaign phones having been bugged, news reports indicate that the Justice Department did seek and/or obtain an order from a FISA court to perform electronic surveillance on a computer that was associated with the Trump Organization. Because FISA courts deal exclusively with intelligence matters, we may never know what was said to the court, or what was ordered by the court (if anything at all).
Incidentally, the FISA courts were created in 1978. As such, they did not exist when the Watergate hotel was bugged by Nixon surrogates in 1972. But what if they had been around in Nixon’s day? Had they been around back then, perhaps Mr. Nixon could have asked Attorney General John Mitchell to petition the FISA court for permission to tap the Democratic National Committee’s phones at the Watergate hotel.
In this hypothetical situation, Messrs. Nixon and Mitchell would have needed to present evidence to the FISA court that Watergate hotel phones were being used by foreign agents. But would that have been too difficult? Mr. Mitchell could have alleged in the FISA application that spies were staying at the hotel. Then, after getting the order to bug the phones, Mr. Mitchell could have used the occasion to tap the DNC phones since they could have been on the same trunks as the phone lines used by the fictitious “spies.” Then Mr. Nixon could have gotten all the information he wanted from the DNC without having to risk the loss of his presidency to a “third rate burglary.”
Again, FISA courts did not exist during the early 1970’s. Therefore, to my knowledge, Mr. Nixon did not have a viable legal means of obtaining a warrant to wiretap the DNC’s phones (or any other set of lines at the Watergate hotel for that matter). But if FISA courts had existed in 1972 – and therefore, if Mr. Nixon had been given a legal means to bug the Democrats – the Watergate scandal might have been avoided altogether. After all, Mr. Nixon could have achieved his political ends by creating a viable national security cover for his nefarious aims (instead of asking the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating the burglary).
Perhaps this is what Mr. Obama did. Perhaps he conspired with Attorney General Loretta Lynch to create a pretext for bugging Mr. Trump’s phones and/or computers. Perhaps the Attorney General signed a FISA application alleging that foreign agents were using a computer at Trump Tower. Perhaps she obtained an order, and then ordered the hacking of Trump Tower phones and/or computers. Whether this happened or not, we may never really know.
In the final analysis, Tricky Dick may still be alive in Washington today. Either his paranoia has consumed President Trump, or his need to perform dirty tricks has consumed President Obama.
Regardless, Congress needs to get to the bottom of these allegations once and for all. Otherwise, the integrity of our system of government may be placed in jeopardy.